Spotlight On: Aline Brosh McKenna, Author of “Jane”

Aline Brosh McKenna is no stranger to well-known projects. She is the co-creator of the CW show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and was the screenwriter for the hit film, The Devil Wears Prada. Now, she’s turned her attention to other famous subject matter — specifically the story of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

Jane is McKenna’s first foray into the world of graphic novels. Beautifully illustrated by Ramón K. Pérez, the graphic novel presents a new take on the classic tale and lays it out in a more modern format. She was kind enough to take the time to chat with us about Jane, her career, and what the future has in store. 

The Devil Wears Prada. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. 27 Dresses. When it comes to movies and television, your body of work is amazing! What made you decide to dive into the world of graphic novels?

I adapted the amazing graphic novel Rust by Royden Lepp five years ago. Through that I was introduced to the world of graphic novels. I fell in love and started devouring them. Then I discovered Ramón Pérez and his artwork and I was again smitten. I had been thinking about ways to do a modern Jane Eyre and a graphic novel seemed like the perfect way to capture the tone and feel of the story.

Jane takes the eponymous heroine from the Charlotte Brontë classic, Jane Eyre, and transports her to the northeastern United States, where she navigates both a small New England fishing village and, ultimately, the hustle and bustle of life in New York City. How did this idea come about — not only to breathe new life into an older story, but to present it in an entirely new format?

I was looking for an out-of-the-way place for Jane to be from and I loved the idea of her being on the water. I thought it might lend itself well to Ramón’s art and would be a good contrast to the city. I also wanted to show that she has talent as an artist and Ramón had the brilliant idea of making the first section be a few pages from her sketchbook. Despite all these changes, we strove to capture the essence of Jane—lonely, internal, but also brave and kind.

What was the process like for bringing the character into the present day? How did you adapt different parts of the plot so that they fit with their new time period?

The idea of being a governess is obviously out of date, so Jane in this version is a nanny. Another important aspect of updating the book was to give her a concrete career goal. Religion plays a major role in the original and we don’t deal with that in our version. But what never changes about Jane is her generosity, wisdom, kindness, and the steadiness of her moral center.

What do you hope readers of Jane take away from the story?

I hope it provides sweep and romance, which are things that Charlotte Brontë did so well. Also, I hope it tells the story of a young character finding her place in the world despite obstacles and confusion. I think it’s one of the most relatable things a character can go through—finding their footing in the world.

You also worked on the 2014 remake of Annie. Is giving a fresh perspective to an established narrative something you enjoy?

It’s actually quite freeing and fun to imagine within the confines of an established story. Drawing out the heart of a piece and putting it in a new context is enjoyable, not just as a writer but as a fan.

Currently, you wear many hats – screenwriter, showrunner, executive producer, author – but how did your career start out?

I started by co-writing a book called A Coed’s Companion with my college roommate. Then I took a screenwriting class at NYU and discovered I enjoyed telling stories in that form. The teacher from that class, Dick Beebe, encouraged me to pursue screenwriting and I ended up selling the script I wrote in his class and using it to get my first agent.

What does the future have in store? Any other graphic novels we can look forward to?

I would love to! Mulling some ideas.

Lastly, at Barnes & Noble College, our main focus in on college students. Do you have any advice or words of wisdom to share with students who are preparing to start careers of their own?

Don’t worry so much about networking and connections and who you know. You might be surprised—I was—to discover that hard work, humility, diligence, and practice work just as well in the long run.

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