Find out about the hotlyanticipated adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
The Graveyard Book artist tells Stephen Jewell about bringing Neil Gaiman’s American Gods to comics.
Comic Heroes: You first collaborated with Neil Gaiman on Sandman #50 in 1992 and have adapted several of his novels into comics. What do you like most about his writing?
P. Craig Russell: It’s damned good! For most of my career, I’ve been interested in doing adaptations, merely from the point of view of finding a project that had literary worth to begin with. I’m not a writer who generates my own original stories, so I really like working on that process of taking a novel or a play and turning it into a graphic narrative. That’s where I work best, I think, in that transition between two different forms. I also like working with someone who is contemporary, as most of the work that I’ve done in
the past has been based on stories by classic authors like Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling and Edgar Allan Poe. So it’s been fun working with someone who is still at the point of their career when they’re releasing a lot of work. CH: How did you come to adapt American Gods for Dark Horse?
PCR: Neil asked me if I would like to do it, and my response was “sure”. I’d already read the book when it first came out in 2001, and the reason I agreed to do it was that I would just be doing the script and the layouts. It’s a huge book – the 10th Anniversary Edition, the version we’re using, is around 650 pages long – and that means our graphic novel would have to be at least that long. At this point in my career, I don’t want to be spending the next five years of my life drawing it, and Dark Horse don’t want it to take that long either. So it made more sense to work with one primary artist, Scott Hampton, and we’ll also be getting a series of other artists including Walt Simonson, Mark Buckingham, Colleen Doran and Glenn Fabry to do some short interlude sequences, so it has become more of an ensemble piece than a one-man show. In doing it that way, we can produce it in three years instead of five or six.
CH: You’ve previously worked with Scott Hampton on The Graveyard Book…
PCR: He did the longest chapter of The Graveyard Book, about 100 pages long, and he finished those 100 pages while other people were still working on their 30 to 40 pages. Not that speed is the only thing that counts – he also did it with such a high level of quality. He doesn’t just do great fantasy: he is also really good at showcasing the everyday real world of motels, coffee shops, buses and all those things that go into drawing 21stcentury America. CH: How does the partnership between you work? PCR: I’m doing the scripts and the
layouts, which means I sketch out the whole page and work out the lettering design. I do rough breakdowns, which are almost like storyboards with close-ups, long shots and indications of body language and composition. It’s sort of like what Harvey Kurtzman used to do at EC Comics back in the ’50s – I provide a blueprint for the artist, who then does the finished artwork. CH Are you also liaising closely with Neil?
PCR: He’s available whenever I have a question about the text – one of the big challenges is that it essentially comes down to one page of art for every page of prose. That entails a great deal of configuring and shaving away, and I’m always worried that something I’m cutting out might be a set-up for something else later on. If that is the case, I’ll send Neil an email or a text and he’ll usually get back to me within a few hours. Other than that, he just leaves me to it.
CH: The series will finally span 27 issues in three arcs corresponding to the three parts of the novel…
PCR: It’s pretty much worked out that each chapter gets its own issue, but that’s not always the case. There are eight chapters in the first part of the novel but our first arc, “Shadow”, is nine issues long, so there is one point where I have had to make an issue break before there is a chapter break. That’s one of the unique challenges of this project, that it’s being serialised as opposed to The Graveyard Book or Coraline, which I also did, which came out as whole volumes. So we have this sort of artificial construct where every 23 pages it needs to be rounded off, so that it feels like a complete piece unto itself. CH The television series of American Gods will be released
shortly after the comic. Will there any kind of synergy between the different versions?
PCR: Absolutely not! My editor, Daniel Chabon, sent me a link to a preview, but I won’t look at it. The same thing happened with
Coraline, when they were doing an animated film of it at the same time as I was doing the graphic novel. I don’t want any crosspollination between them. If we both arrive at the same solution for a storytelling problem independently of each other then that’s fine. But if I see them solve that problem first, I would feel like I’m copying somebody else’s work. But I can’t wait to watch the TV show once I finish my part of the adaptation, although it will be a while longer before all the artwork is done. I’ll happily binge-watch it then.
Above: Glenn Fabry’s cover for issue 1 is as mindblowing as anything he’s ever done.
Above: Russell is taking on script and layout duties on the entire series, which means he begins with page design and storytelling breakdowns like these.