INTERVIEW: Adapting horror fiction to a graphic format
William F. Nolan is perhaps best known for coauthoring the novel Logan’s Run with George Clayton Johnson, and has written hundreds of pieces, from poetry to nonfiction to prose. He also had a long career in the movie industry, and co-wrote the screenplay for the 1976 horror film Burnt Offerings which starred Karen Black and Bette Davis. Nolan has also been a prolific editor of collections (by others), and anthologies, frequently with Jason V. Brock. He has received the Living Legend in Dark Fantasy award by the International Horror Guild in 2002. In 2010, he received the Lifetime Achievement Stoker award from the Horror Writers Association (HWA).
Jason V Brock is an American author, artist, editor and director. He is the CEO and co-founder (with his wife, Sunni) of JaSunni Productions, LLC, whose documentary films include the controversial Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man, and The AckerMonster Chronicles. His novella, Milton’s Children, was published by Bad Moon Books in early 2013. He has partnered with William F. Nolan as co-editor on several anthologies. They most recently worked together on Tales from William F. Nolan’s Dark Universe comic book adaptation of Nolan short stories. (Available from Bluewater Productions).
DARK UNIVERSE is meant to showcase graphic adaptations of stories contained within the DARK UNIVERSE omnibus, a collection of short works by author Nolan. Plans are to adapt these stories into six individual issues and then later collect them all in a trade paperback or hardcover edition. (Note: A review of the first three issues was featured on this site in February 2013. An updated review will appear on this site shortly. )
Further insights regarding the production of Tales from William F. Nolan’s Dark Universe were obtained during a recent conversation with the authors:
Why adapt Dark Universe for comics? Why not an audio presentation, such as a CD? Or a movie or TV series? Even a stage play?
Jason V Brock: It's a natural, really. I mean, Bill's (Nolan) stories are visual and have a lot of visceral impact, so when we put the original deal together with Bluewater for Logan's Run: Last Day and the subsequent Logan comics, we asked for a mini-series of the horror titles. Plus, once they come out as comics, then the plan is to collect them together in a graphic novel format with an introduction from the two of us. Should be quite a package—
William F. Nolan: Exactly. Darren (Darren G. Davis, publisher) at Bluewater was working on a Vincent Price series at one time as well, so it was a logical extension of that idea. I've always liked adaptations of my work into comics, which has happened on other occasions, so when we got this going, I asked to adapt half, and wanted Jason to adapt the rest. We did six stories apiece, so twelve total. They turned out well, I think…
Strangely enough, I did have an audio version of several of my stories done by an outfit in San Francisco. We recorded them with sound effects, actors, and full introductions read by me. It never materialized, unfortunately.
Brock: Yes, it's too bad. I was with you during the recording of the intros. They were to be streaming on the web, then CDs later.
Nolan: Right. An anthology movie would never work, for the same reason an anthology TV show wouldn't – no one seems interested in that format these days. Now a stage play is an interesting idea. I wrote one about Dashiell Hammett called Dash that's been performed a few times.
Whose idea was it to do a comic book version of select stories?
Nolan: Mine, as I recall.
Brock: That's correct.
How hard is it to adapt? Are certain stories selected because of ease of adaptation? Or, other criteria? Are there some stories that you would like to adapt to comics that aren't possible because of content or difficulty to translate to a visual medium?
Brock: Adapting stories is harder in some ways, and, like film or TV adaptations, sometimes one has to alter the original story to achieve what the visual medium of comics requires—
Nolan: That's right. People never understand that about movies or television. Sometimes you have to rewrite or rework things, combine elements, drop things, and so on. Doing a straight "literal" adaptation almost never works. The only exception I can think of is The Maltese Falcon. It was a near verbatim copy of the book, but that's another story…
We each chose the stories we wanted to do; I adapted the stories of mine that I felt had the best characters (‘The Halloween Man’, ‘Major Prevue Here Tonite’, ‘Heart's Blood’, ‘Ceremony’, ‘Starblood’, and ‘The Partnership’). They are some of my favorites in the collection (Nolan's Stealth Press horror omnibus Dark Universe). Jason really did a great job, though! The stories he picked were very hard to adapt, I think. I know I couldn't have done them! And he pulled it off beautifully, I might add.
Brock: Much appreciated. It was fun. As you say, I had to change a few things to make them work, but they came together well… My main criteria were I wanted to do something memorable, something that doesn't normally get adapted. Plus, we wanted to avoid things that others had adapted previously, too.
(Brock adapted the following stories: ‘The Pool’, ‘Vympyre’, ‘Him, Her, Them’, ‘The Giant Man’, ‘Boyfren’, and ‘A Real Nice Guy’.)
Is there a new revised print edition of Dark Universe the anthology coming to market?
Brock: Actually, yes, that's in the works. I am the editor on Bill's upcoming new collection, which was originally to be published by Arkham House, but which fell through with their apparent dissolution. Too bad, as it would have been an interesting fit for them, and is pretty much completed. I was able to garner interest for it from the fantastic Centipede Press, however, and I believe it should be out in time for the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, England later this year, which we will all be attending. It's called Like a Dead Man Walking and Other Shadow Tales, and will feature about 90% new, unpublished material, with a few classic reprints to round it out. Later, Jerad (the publisher) is planning on a huge, current Best Of William F. Nolan that I convinced him was a good follow-up to this, and that will be, I believe, a part of his Masters of the Weird Tale series. It will have science fiction and horror, as well as some literary works and poetry.
How are the artists selected for the stories?
Brock: Darren G. Davis (the president of Bluewater) handles all of that—
Nolan: We do get some say over the type of art, but he does the artist selection, as Jason pointed out. I love the art in the Tales from William F. Nolan's Dark Universe series, and really liked the art in most of the Logan series, especially the first four issues.
How much of the comic layout and panel art is determined before assigning to the artist?
Nolan: Well I write the scripts for the comics as a sort of screenplay format, with basic scene setting, character description and so on, but I use all the dialogue from the stories, and the plots. Jason works a little differently, I know…
Brock: True—I prefer to write very detailed scripts, and break down each scene into panels with a lot of specifics for the artist. I had to do that, as a few of the ones I adapted were quite short, and these had to carry over half of a twenty-two page comic. Of course, I use the setting, plot, and dialogue (mostly) from the stories…
How much does the artist contribute?
Brock: For me, not a tremendous amount in terms of characterization and paneling; in terms of artwork and the "look," a great deal…
How easy or hard is it to translate these stories to an illustrated medium?
Nolan: I grew up on comics, and I used to write comics with my departed pal Charles Beaumont (The Twilight Zone), but they weren't horror titles. I like adapting works into other mediums, so it's fairly simple for me—
Brock: Well, it depends a great deal on the tale that you're adapting, I think. Some are easy and others are more difficult.
Are there any benefits to a comics version of these stories? More impact? Able to tell a story in less pages because of the visual/text capabilities?
Brock: I think it's a great way to introduce younger readers to new stories. The challenge was to expand rather than condense, as Bill has a spare writing style, so I really had to wring more from the story without resorting to a padded feel.
Nolan: I agree with Jason. Young people love the visual impact, so it gets them to read more, and if they like these, then maybe they'll check out the books we do.
Compare this work to your work on the Logan's Run comic. Was it easier or more difficult to adapt, Dark Universe or Logan’s Run?
Nolan: We didn't actually adapt any of the Logan series—
Brock: That's true, though I have done a one-shot based in that world called Logan's Run: Solo. It's an original piece, however, and not an adaptation. The story is about a very far-future Logan and what happens to him as an aged Runner. On Logan’s Run: Last Day we were consultants, and did the costume designs and plotting of the story over the first six issue arc, then Paul J. Salamoff wrote it.
Nolan: I have to say that I've read Logan's Run: Solo and thought it was just fantastic. Ingenious what Jason did with the character and the scenario. It's going to be an aspect of the upcoming book we're planning to co-write in the Logan universe called Logan Falls, which will turn the franchise upside down—
Brock: Well, I hope it does… It will also incorporate, like Logan's Run: Solo, the pieces from the Bluewater Logan's Run: Last Day series called ‘Future History’, which I created but was not credited with. I'm reclaiming all of that back-story, as it was mine anyway, and both of us felt was one of the more interesting aspects of the series. It was a way of modernizing the older elements of the Logan saga; I want to deconstruct the "Logan mythos" and do more with the characters.
Would you like to work in comics again? On what sort of project? Do you have any plans to do so?
Nolan: Of course. I love comics!
Brock: Yes. I enjoy the medium a lot. We are doing a couple of things currently, but can't discuss them yet.
What else are you presently working on?
Nolan: I'm always working on about eight or ten books at any one time… Jason mentioned a few of them. Hippocampus Press is doing a collection of my writings about Ray Bradbury which is due out very soon called Nolan on Bradbury; it's edited by S. T. Joshi, and has pieces from Ray, Jason, S. T., and Greg Bear as well… And of course waiting on the Logan's Run re-make!
Brock: Well, we just dropped our documentary on Forrest J Ackerman (The AckerMonster Chronicles!) to rave reviews, so Sunni (my wife and film editor) and I are promoting that. As I said, Bill, Sunni, and I will be at several cons throughout 2013, from World Fantasy to World Horror, to Norwescon, and OryCon… Then I just had my standalone novella, Milton's Children, come out from Bad Moon Books. Hippocampus Press is also releasing my first short story collection, Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities soon, and I'm still working on NAMELESS which is a biannual digest… You can grab that in PDF and print format. The work doesn't end!
NEXT: A REVIEW OF ALL ISSUES PUBLISHED TO DATE OF WILLIAM F. NOLAN’S TALES FROM THE DARK UNIVERSE.