Busby Berkley, Neil Gaiman, and Well-Written Stories: A Conversation with P. Craig Russell
The recent graphic interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book afforded me the chance to interview the legendary artist P. Craig Russell. I lept at the opportunity which lead to a discussion that touched on a variety of topics including Neil Gaiman, art, young adult fiction, Busby Berkley, and why Russell had no social life for three months.
RICK KLAW: Unlike your previous adaptations, you worked with a variety of artists. How does your approach differ when you aren’t doing the art?
P. CRAIG RUSSELL: The only difference in my approach to the art when working with other artists is that I put a little more effort into designing the picture within individual panels. If I’m doing it for myself I only need a few squiggles to remind myself weeks or months later what needs to be drawn in that panel. For other artists I spend more time on a recognizable composition, sometimes adding/suggesting background details.
RK: Working with so many artists can be a logistical nightmare. How was the production of the book handled?
PCR: There were days when it did feel like a logistical nightmare. The biggest challenge was continuity of character design and background settings remaining consistent from story to story. We didn’t give too much thought to that going into the project. I originally thought that a character’s design would fall to the artist whose story that character first appeared in, and he/she could pass it on. This assumed all artists would be starting at the same time, but not all did and that led to some confusion. I did do some character and background design then and sent that to all the artists. Galen Showman helped out with this well beyond the demands of his own story.
RK: Who determined the artists for The Graveyard Book? How were they selected?
PCR: I selected the artists by getting on the phone or tracking them down via email. I was unfamiliar with David Lafuente’s work until by chance I saw it posted on someone’s Facebook photo page. I also did my best to ‘cast’ them with the right story. I thought Jill Thompson would be particularly good with Danse Macabre with its Busby Berkley-like climactic dance scene…and I was right. I originally thought I would do the opening chapter, but once Kevin Nowlen came on board I assigned it to him since the opening scenes are interiors and Kevin does them so well. David Lafuente is also good with architecture and also with contemporary styles of clothing so he was perfect for chapter six in which Bod prematurely returns to civilization. All those ’tweens’ and their outfits. He nailed it.
RK: Was there any aspect of The Graveyard Book that was particularly difficult to bring to comics?
PCR: No more so than any other adaptation. Always the question of what prose to cut, what to leave in, and all the storytelling/staging decisions of when to use a closeup, longshot, pacing,etc.
RK: How much input did Neil Gaiman have on the project?
PCR: Neil was always available if I had any questions. I had five or six in the course of scripting but I was basically on my own which is the way I like it. I holed up and worked seven days a week for three months to script and lay out the 352 pages.
RK: Michael Moorcock and Gaiman are the only two living writers’ works you’ve adapted. What were some of the similarities and differences between working with each author?
PCR: I never met or spoke to Michael Moorcock until I had finished my Elric stories. I did contact him for a photo of him that I needed when adapting Neil’s “One Life Furnished in Early Moorcock.” Neil and I have had a more personable relationship from the beginning of our now nearly 25 year collaboration. Aside from that, there’s no real difference in my approach to adapting their works. The creative mechanism remains the same.
RK: You’ve tackled Gaiman, Moorcock, and Oscar Wilde. What other writers would you like to adapt to comics?
PCR: The Scottish writer of fairy tales, George MacDonald. I definitely want to do one of his stories.
RK: What’s next for P. Craig Russell?
PCR: Speaking of living writers, I’m working on Lois Lowry’s The Giver, a 178-page adaptation of her novel which has sold about a bazillion copies at last count. I am doing the script adaptation or graphicplay, if you will, and the art. It’s still in full production so I’m not certain of the publishing date but sometime next year from Houghton Mifflin.
RK: What attracted you to The Giver and young adult fiction in particular?
PCR: I was unaware of The Giver until approached by the publisher but as soon as I read it I knew I wanted to do it. I had the book scripted and designed before we even signed contracts. Its personal appeal to me was in Lois Lowry’s creation of a ‘perfect’ society. It is a society in which pain, conflict, and sadness appear to have been erased. The story makes clear that the attempt to remove all rough edges comes at enormous dehumanizing cost. I can’t really say that I’m attracted to “young adult fiction.” I’m attracted to well written stories. The Graveyard Book and The Giver are just that.
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