Last week’s news of an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” drew a great deal of interest, including an EW.com piece on the topic. It’s an ambitious endeavor, adapting a bestselling epic fantasy series in a medium that generally doesn’t see too much epic fantasy, but GRRM has selected some excellent partners in the effort. Published jointly by Dynamite (publishing the single issues) and Bantam (who’ll publish the collected graphic novels), the first novel will see the art of Tommy F. Patterson realizing Martin’s vast world, while author Daniel Abraham—an old hand at adapting George’s work to comic form— handles the scripting duties.
Below you’ll find our interview with Abraham, touching on a range of topics including his approaching to scripting, his history with comics, the particular challenges of adapting “A Song of Ice and Fire”, and more.
Your blog post mentions some interesting things regarding the differences between scripting and writing. What approach do you take to scripting, in regards to directing the artist’s illustrations?
My mandate is to keep the comic true to the book, but there’s actually a fair amount of play in the original text. Winterfell’s a good example. Some parts of Winterfell are very carefully and precisely described, and others are talked about in more general—almost poetic—ways that are open to interpretation. So my job is to make sure that Tommy knows the details when there are details and the general effect when there isn’t. Sometimes I’ll even quote a passage from the book so that Tommy has in hand exactly what George said. I’m not a graphic designer or artist, so I try not to micromanage the panel art.
Will characters be dropped or merged together, as in the TV show (the Blackfish has been written out of the 1st season, for example), or is that one thing that you think the comics will allow you to avoid, even if you have to take shortcuts elsewhere?
There are places where minor characters are getting dropped or combined, but we’re checking with George on those. I’d hate to omit someone from book one who turns out to be a point of view in book five. But with the space we have, that’s been pretty minor.
24 issues for A Game of Thrones, as you mention in your post, would be about two years to see published. What commitment is there from Dynamite and Bantam regarding supporting the series and keeping it going if it takes time to find its footing?
Yeah, Bantam and Dynamite are going to know better than I am, but my impression is that we’re all pretty much locked in for the first two years. And the intention is certainly to collect the issues into graphic novels
The ultimate idea if this is a runaway success must be to adapt all the novels. Has any work gone into outlining how you’d do that, or is the focus right now on adapting the first novel?
Right now, we’re focusing on the first novel, but we’ve done a fair amount of work outlining that chapter by chapter, adjusting what needs adjusting. Once we get to the end of this project and know what we’re looking at, we’ll tackle what exactly we want to do for the next one.
Given the partnership, what’s the editorial process like? Are they both contributing editorially, or is there just one editor? What are their names?
There are a couple of folks over at Bantam who are overseeing the process and giving notes. One is Anne Groell, who is George’s editor on the books, and then Tricia Pasternak who is the local expert on comic books. The way we’re doing it, I send them my first draft, they send me back notes. Usually, when we’ve done that a couple times, we can get to something that we all feel good about.
Regarding the structure of the novels, George has rather famously made use of multiple point of views, each chapter dedicated to a single POV, and so there’s always multiple story lines in play. How well does this translate to comics? It seems like the natural end point of any one issue is going to be the same as the end point of POV chapter, but does this work out in practice, or have you already had to change around some of the beats?
We’ve changed around some of the chapter order, but the final note in a chapter—and right at the first, especially the Dany chapters—are just lovely grace notes, so it’s hard to break a chapter in the middle. The overall strategy we’re working with is to cover a few chapters each issue and cover them completely.
"The things I do for love"—not to give too much away, but which issue would that be in?
Two of the characters that draw the most criticism from some fans—Sansa and Catelyn—are often lambasted for "whining", which seems to be an artifact of our being inside their heads; their internal monologues don’t necessarily match their public dialog, but that seems to escape some readers. The prospect of the TV series, where there’s no internal monologue on display, has led George to think that characters such as these might be less open to criticism from viewers. Does the adaptation to the comic form entail a similar reduction or removal of internal dialog?
Putting into a comic book doesn’t necessarily take out internal monologue, though. Comic books are still a static, written form. What will happen is that we’ll have more information about them. If we see the grief on Catelyn’s face or the fear on Sansa’s—if we do this right—the readers will have that visceral reaction that images give. Do I think it will make the characters more likable? I don’t know. But I think there will be more and different information than straight text gives. And yes, that might change impressions. It won’t change what they do or say, though. So it might also confirm what people already thought.
The series is also known for being quite adult in some of its content—George holds nothing back—but getting on comic shop shelves generally means some content restriction. Are scenes featuring strong language, graphic violence, and explicit sexuality going to be pulled back a bit?
The sexuality is pretty central to the story. I think we can dial back what we present in the images—I don’t think we need to see precisely here everyone’s fingers are going— but I don’t think we can change what the acts and actions mean, either to the characters or to the readers. And in some cases, we’re actually dialing it up a notch simply by being a visual medium.
We are—and HBO is—pulling back from the age question. In the novel, Dany is of an age appropriate for marriage in a very different age and culture. And while we can tell a story in text about the sexuality, exploitation, and power of a girl that age, we can’t show pictures. That’s an artifact of our age and culture, and as a citizen of our age and culture, I’m good with it.
Violence and profanity are, by comparison, non-issues. We aren’t going to get to the level of violence we’d see in Preacher because it already isn’t in the text, and I don’t personally feel comfortable sanitizing the profanity because I think it’s part of the tone of the world George made.
So far, you’ve adapted GRRM’s work twice (Fevre Dream and the as-yet-unpublished Skin Trade for Avatar), and created an original story within the Wild Cards universe (Wild Cards: The Hard Call, from Dynamite). Would you be interested in developing an original comic series that’s all your own? If yes, any particular genres that you’d be interested in working in within the comics medium?
The dirty little secret is oh yeah. There’s actually a specific story I’ve wanted to tell for years that can really only be done in comic book form, and with a really good artist. I got in to adapting comics because I wanted to get enough experience to pitch my little book. Right now, it’s going by the name "The Golden Age of Wireless" but that’s just the name I have for it in my head.
Speaking of Wild Cards, has there been any discussion that you’re party to regarding bringing out another original WC miniseries?
Not at the moment, no. Between writing as MLN Hanover, Daniel Abraham, half of James Corey, and the Game of Thrones comic book, my plate’s pretty much full. The production of Hard Call was so problematic, it’s very hard to say what the interest would be in another run. After we see how the graphic novel does, we might have a better idea whether it’s feasible.
Did you grow up with comics, or was this something you got interested and involved in relatively late? Any particular favorites, whether specific comics or creators, especially more recently?
I’ve dabbled my whole life. The first ones I actually remember were some Disney titles in my first grade classroom. But read a lot of the big guys—Spiderman, Batman, X-Men, Wonder Woman—all through my childhood and early adolescence. I did the obligatory Alan Moore fanboy thing with Watchmen and V for Vendetta, but by the time I hit From Hell, I got the feeling I was missing his points. Had a run of Moon Knight for a while too. I hit college around the time Vertigo spun up, so that was pretty much perfect. I hit Sandman just like everyone else, but also some amazing and more or less forgotten ones. From the mid 90s, my favorite title was Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children by Louapre and Sweetman.
More recently, I’ve been reading Fables, pretty much anything Kurt Busiek puts his hand to, Y: The Last Man. That kind of stuff. But if you haven’t heard of it and want to see something brilliant, try Demo. Marv Wolfman recommended it to me (like the name drop? subtle, eh?) and it ranges from interesting to brilliant.
Fantasy of the kind that "A Song of Ice and Fire" epitomizes is quite rare in comics—not a lot of secondary world, epic fantasies out there, whereas as a literary sub-genre the epic fantasy is quite popular and well-represented on bookshelves. Do you have any thoughts as to why this difference may exist?
I’m really not sure, except that there are a lot of things that you can get away with in text that are awfully hard to pull off visually.
Your new epic fantasy series, "The Dagger and the Coin", is about to begin publishing in the U.S. and U.K. via Orbit, with the first novel being The Dragon’s Path (US, UK). How far are you into writing the following novel, and is there a prospective publication date and title for the second volume?
I’m on track to turn in the second book—The King’s Blood—on the first of June. If I miss the deadline, they dock me a load of money. I expect they’ll be publishing it around April of next year, given the production schedule on the last one.