|Images from Eight Million Ways to Die courtesy of John K Snyder III and IDW|
Comics creator John K Snyder III spent much of his early career in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., but these days lives in western Virginia. He occasionally visits the area for local comics shows and to catch up with friends. John will be in town Saturday, July 14, at Big Planet Comics in Bethesda to sign his new graphic novel Eight Million Ways to Die, an adaptation of the Lawrence Block detective novel.(See info, below.)
Below is a Q&A we did with John about the new book ahead of this weekend’s signing.
What was it about Eight Million Ways to Die — Lawrence Block’s fifth book featuring the gumshoe Matthew Scudder — that you thought would be ideal to adapt into a graphic novel?
I thought Block's study of the human condition told through the detective/mystery genre lent itself to do something other than the typical slam-bang action sometimes associated with pulp fiction comics, though there's certainly enough of it in the story as well. Also, Block's work is very much dialogue-driven, which makes it a natural to adapt to the panel-to-panel format of comics storytelling.
What was your approach to adapting the book? Was Block involved in the process, or did he just hand it off to you? How involved were IDW editors?
I worked solo on the adaptation, and Lawrence was shown pages from time to time by my editor, Tom Waltz. It was always great to get a short note back he was pleased with how it was progressing, that's all I needed to hear to keep moving on. My adaptation process was to keep Block's writing as close to the original as possible, and to focus on the key points of the story to mirror as much of the feel and pace of the original novel. It was a very involved and fluid process, I had to be open to revise and cut sequences all the way through to the end. My gracious editor, Tom Waltz, gave me a free hand to tell the story my way, for that I'll always be grateful. Lawrence Block read and approved of the book once it was completely adapted, illustrated and lettered (by Frank Cvetkovic). Lawrence Block's enthusiastic response to the final product was just wonderful.
The story takes place in the early 1980s, but it’s not stylized in a 1980s kind or way, nor is it overloaded with cultural references that might date it. How did you balance that?
I thought of it in real time, how do we experience our day-to-day lives now? What marks the time period we are in? Our own daily cultural reminders are subtle, in the clothing, the technology, what's in the background. In this graphic novel, it's 1982 New York City—the characters use land line phones, answering services, and phone booths, read newspapers, people look for people by going to their familiar hangouts on the notion they'll be there, not by texting in advance. So the period is defined enough by the characters' actions, how they get around—there's not too much of a need to layer on top of that with additional symbols of the period. I did throw in a concert poster of The Who at Shea Stadium, with opening act, The Clash. That's a cultural moment that was a sign of the changing times, and in fact, The Clash weren't around long after that. It's good to throw in some specific references, but to choose ones that count.
The book has an incredible gritty atmosphere, conveyed through the way you illustrated it. Can you briefly outline your approach? I believe you drew and colored it by hand? How long did the project take, including the writing and illustrating?
I wrote a detailed explanation of my process in a recent article. But for the somewhat shorter version, the pages are all done by hand, fully penciled, sometimes inked, and light to solid color rendering over the pencil/ink, then all adjusted in photoshop, making multiple scans of the pages in different stages and layering them in portions, fusing them all together for the final effect. I guess you could say it's a little like old school animation, laying different animation cels one atop another to create depth. Being the first time adapting Block's work and also developing this illustration process, it took a considerable amount of time to figure it all out, but by the time it got to the last third or so of the book, I had it down to a rhythm of regular production.
Although the story takes place in New York City, did you look back to you time living in D.C. in the ‘80s (which itself was rather gritty at that time) for particular influences?
Absolutely! The book takes place in fall of 1982, at that time, I was living on King St in Old Town Alexandria, pre-Metro Station, and it held its own kind of dystopian vibe, though certainly not on the epic scale of New York City. I would regularly head down to DC Space at 7th and E streets NW and the original 9:30 Club at the Atlantic Building at 930 F Street NW, all of which was just a short drive away from Alexandria. And Old Town had its own little dive club, The Upstairs 704, directly on 704 King St. There was plenty of past inspiration to draw on between all of those locations alone, believe me. And I was quite enamored of New York City, my first time there was in the summer of 1981 — it was a brief visit, but I kept that in mind as well. All in all, it was quite an era. I hope readers will get some of the vibe of that period while reading the adaptation as well.