Joe Abercrombie's The First Law (The Graphic Novel) - Interview

As listeners of the podcast know, both Tom and I are big fans of Joe Abercrombie, and especially of The First Law trilogy. So when I found out that Joe was working on a new graphic novel based on Logen Ninefingers and his (mis)adventures (from the man himself, no less) I immediately wanted to learn more.

Joe was kind enough to answer a few questions about the series, which you can learn more about at First Law Comic.

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First off, congrats on the graphic novel! That's very exciting!

It's been a long time in the pipeline - maybe 18 months since the deal was first signed - so it's great to see it go out into the world.

Who first approached you to make The First Law into a graphic novel?

Rich Young from Blind Ferret, who also edited, put the artistic team together and brought in Chuck Dixon to adapt.  What interested me in particular about Rich's pitch, quite apart from his creative vision and his love for the books, was Blind Ferret's track record with webcomics and digital distribution.

Had anyone else come to you wanting to do that before, or was that something you had considered on your own?

I'd had a couple of much more traditional approaches, but the traditional comics market is pretty small and steadily dwindling, and obviously crowded with a lot of very powerful and long-established brands, I just didn't see a traditional approach getting enough momentum to make the work worthwhile.

Will this be a print edition, or digitally distributed? Both? And what will the release schedule be like?

It was the method of distribution that really sold this idea to me.  In essence there's a triple approach.  Firstly we're going to be serialising the adaptation, free to all comers, at www.firstlawcomic.com.  The first twelve pages have gone up already, and there'll be new pages posted every monday, wednesday and friday, hopefully for several years to come, given that this is a pretty detailed and comprehensive adaptation.  I just right away felt that, with free distribution, there was the potential to create a lot of goodwill and get a lot of people through the door and involved with it, and that it was potentially a good thing for the books as a whole.  

But for those who aren't satisfied with a page at a time and want to get a little ahead of the game, we're also going to be distributing whole issues, for between 99 cents and $2.99, via ComiXology, which will come with guided view and a package of inks, pencils and designs as a bonus with each issue. 

Finally, we'll be collecting every four issues into hard-copy collections, with further bonus material.  Exact details of those to be confirmed...

One of the great things about reading is the ability to visualize your favorite characters. How do you feel about nailing down the descriptions of the characters on the comic page? Have they ended up the way you pictured them in your head, and did you have input on that for the graphic novel?

Someone was foolish enough to offer me total editorial control, but I've tried to take a reassuringly firm yet lovingly gentle touch with it.  I think when you work with an artist you need to give them the freedom to draw it the way they see it, to let them interpret the work the way they want to.  And as a writer you don't always have entirely vivid pictures of every character and location.  So some designs were perfect right off.  Others were surprising, but fitted.  Others needed some tinkering with.  But generally, Andie Tong, the artist, has an amazing eye for costume and location design, and I've really been able to say yes, yes, yes to a lot of things and let him produce his vision of the books, given extra verve and variety by Pete Pantazis' colours.  So there'll certainly be some things that keen readers of the trilogy will see differently, but as a whole it's an adaptation that I'm very pleased with and hugely proud of.

Obviously the story needs to be trimmed down for this manner of storytelling. What was that process like? How do you pick what makes the cut?

Rich brought in Chuck Dixon, who's a hugely experienced comics writer, to do the adaptation.  He's obviously got a great sense for what to pick out from a scene, what to show and how, what angles to use to get the action across.  But obviously I know the books and the characters better than anyone, so I'd go over each script in some detail trying to keep as much sense of the books and the voices of the characters as possible, and maybe changing something here or there that would be important long term.  It's going to be a detailed adaptation, 16 issues for the Blade Itself alone, so it hasn't been necessary to really lose that much in terms of whole scenes.  it's amazing how much prose you can boil down into one carefully designed panel.  In general the whole process has been quite an education for me.  One that will continue for some time to come.

Do you have any plans to make any of your other books into comics?

At the current rate we probably won't be finished with The First Law for several years to come, so I'm keeping my energy for that, for the time being.  I've got a fair few irons in the fire with book projects as well, of course.  But I certainly wouldn't rule out adaptations of the other books.  We'll see how this one goes...