Modern-Day Charles Dickens Would Write Sci-Fi & Comic Books, According to Adam Dalva’s Olivia Twist Afterword

Comics Features Dark Horse Comics
Share Tweet Submit Pin
Modern-Day Charles Dickens Would Write Sci-Fi & Comic Books, According to Adam Dalva&#8217;s <i>Olivia Twist</i> Afterword

Powerhouse editor Karen Berger had a knack for converting prose writers into comic masterminds during her storied tenure at Vertigo, and now she’s bringing that same skill to her eponymous imprint at Dark Horse Comics. Among the illustrious talents assembled under the Berger Books banner is internationally bestselling novelist Darin Strauss, who launched Olivia Twist last fall alongside co-writer Adam Dalva, artist Emma Vieceli and colorist Lee Loughridge. A gender-swapped, dystopian update of the Charles Dickens classic Oliver Twist, Olivia Twist recasts that legendary story’s themes of class and perseverance for a new age—and for a more hands-on protagonist, who rallies a girl gang to resist the dangerous status quo.

The trade-paperback collection of Olivia Twist hits bookstores and major online retailers today, and Paste has a preview of Vieceli and Loughridge’s interior art, along with an exclusive first look at co-writer Adam Dalva’s afterword for the series, in which he posits that a modern-day Dickens might just join Dalva and Strauss in crafting sci-fi comic serials. Check that out below, and be sure to pick up Olivia Twist in stores everywhere.


Olivia Twist Cover Art by Emma Vieceli & Lee Loughridge

Our Mutual Friend by Adam Dalva

A once-a-month publication whose occasional delays provoked readerly anguish. An author accused of over-reacting to critics—toning down characters that some found offensive; shifting with the political winds; changing plots on the fly, spinning plot with no clear ending in sight. Fabulous accompanying art by a collaborator who provided narrative input. A work pirated so often in America that the writer complained to the Federal Government. Great, over-the-top, slightly literal names; the cruelest cliffhangers in the business; stories loved by adolescents, derided as sentimental by the ambitious young, and rediscovered as masterworks by nostalgic adults.

Yes, you’ve spotted the extended gag, but I can do you one better. Because if Charles Dickens had been born in our complex cultural moment, he wouldn’t just have been writing comic books. He would have turned to science fiction. Because when science fiction is great, it isn’t just about our unimaginable future—it’s about the world we live in right now, the fears that are poking around the next turn. The Industrial Revolution was a future shock. Unfathomable speed shot through everyday life, and the world spun so fast that it started to fall apart. Its ramifications still echo today in sludgy waterways, vanishing continents.

There is always a human cost to innovation. At this very moment, several corporations are triangulating your whereabouts; back then, a young Dickens was ripped from his childhood and deposited into a dystopic workhouse of bad choices and degradation. Oliver Twist was the first Victorian novel with a child protagonist for a reason—the world corrupts, when it’s cruel, and there is particular pain to being pure at heart. As Dickens worked in that shoe-blacking factory, he never lost his hope. His writing is often accused of having a sentimental streak. Who can blame him?

My collaboration with Darin was sparked by our discussions of the moral relevancy of Dickens. We decided to take on the fool’s task of playing in the master’s toy box. Of course, for a story set in the future and written in 2018, some aspects of Oliver Twist needed modernizing. Even in 1837, Fagin, “The Jew,” was so offensive that Dickens retconned him on the fly. Through all his stories, the good characters are too good. And this is especially true with Oliver: a passive lead of gentle birth who is operated on by fate doesn’t sit right in an egalitarian story. Our Olivia grabs destiny for herself. We also took out about a thousand extra twists and coincidences. (If I were in a Dickens novel, I would strongly suspect at least three people I know of being long-lost family.) But our own band of outsiders is true to the spirit of Dickens, who reached into places most writers wouldn’t, to pluck out a new kind of protagonist.

Even now, when I re-read Oliver Twist, I’m astounded. Surely it was I, not the maestro, who gave Charley Bates bucolic fantasies. Wasn’t it Darin, or our intrepid editor Karen Berger, who suggested a thematic preponderance of all-seeing eyes (“too many eyes, living light”)? The Artful Emma Vieceli must have been the one who made our Dodger so wonderfully shaped. Nope, all him.

Writing requires a balanced diet. We turn to Hemingway when we get long-winded, good old Proust when we need to expound, Virginia Woolf when genius eludes. Dickens is the meal when our plots falter. Oliver Twist drags at first in a Byzantine way, and then all of a sudden the A-story and three different supporting characters cascade together and you are insensate on the rug at 3 a.m., having forgotten to hydrate or sleep.

But Dickens is also underrated as a craftsman of sentences, with a knack for irresistible description. The Artful Dodger explodes from the page when you read that “he was, altogether, as roistering and swaggering a young gentleman as ever stood four feet six, or something less, in the blushers.” For a book to be great, it needs to have at least one unique, searing scene. All the Dickens novels have them. Oliver Twist’s you already know: The brave little urchin at the front of the massive room asking for a morsel from men who have everything.

Darin was a superlative grad school professor, and I an admiring student, and more, a fan, especially of his recent memoir, Half A Life. How did he do it? Connecting through Dickens changed our relationship into one of equals. I remember my first time at his house, both of us laughing as we broke down Great Expectations, both of us realizing the malleability of Oliver Twist.

Some stories just can’t lose. Oliver Twist is Luke Skywalker, is Katniss Everdeen, is Olivia. And Olivia is every person on the fringe who hasn’t ever quite let go of the dream of something more.

Olivia Twist Cover Art by Emma Vieceli & Lee Loughridge

Olivia Twist Cover Art by Emma Vieceli & Lee Loughridge

Olivia Twist Cover Art by Emma Vieceli & Lee Loughridge

Olivia Twist Cover Art by Emma Vieceli & Lee Loughridge

Olivia Twist Cover Art by Emma Vieceli & Lee Loughridge

OTHAT TPB PG 130.jpg
Olivia Twist Cover Art by Emma Vieceli & Lee Loughridge

OTHAT TPB PG 131.jpg
Olivia Twist Cover Art by Emma Vieceli & Lee Loughridge

More from Dark Horse Comics