Tony Lee Enters Sherwood Forest

Thu, October 29th, 2009 at 8:58am PDT

Comic Books
Alex Dueben, Staff Writer
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Tony Lee's "Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood" is in stores now

There have been many interpretations of Robin Hood over the years in books and film, and writer Tony Lee has retold the legend once more, with his own additions and alterations in the new graphic novel, "Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood." Illustrated by Sam Hart, with whom Lee has collaborated before, and initially published in the UK by Walker Books and Candlewick Press in the States, the graphic novel tells a very familiar tale, but one that has its own twists, turns and changes.

Lee has worked on a number of projects over the years, from "Starship Troopers " to "Wallace and Gromit," "Spider-Man" to "Shrek." His creator-owned graphic novel, "Hope Falls," was published by AAM/Markosia earlier this year. Lee is probably best known for his work on "Doctor Who" for IDW, first with the miniseries "The Forgotten," illustrated by Pia Guerra, and with the current ongoing series featuring rotating artists. Lee has also written the webcomic "Where Evils Dare" which is available on Zuda this month.

In addition to Robin Hood, Lee has also written classic literary characters in "From the Pages of Bram Stoker’s Dracula -- Harker" which is coming out this fall, as well as adapting "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" into comics and an upcoming King Arthur project.

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What’s your first memory of Robin Hood?

It was probably the Disney movie with the talking fox. I remember going to see that as a small child and I remember by father buying me a Robin Hood cap and bow, complete with sucker headed arrows. But it wasn't until I saw "Robin Of Sherwood" in my teens that I really became a fan of the folk story.

Cover for "Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood"

Why did you decide to write a Robin Hood graphic novel?

Mainly, because I loved the story. I was writing a book called "Midnight Kiss" for Markosia, and I wanted to build in a subplot involving Robin Hood. By this point, I'd become a bit of an amateur scholar on the subject, and had several ideas in my head on it. The subplot never happened but Sam Hart, who had just drawn a "Starship Troopers" book with me, sent me a page of Robin Hood "fan art" - mainly because he was bored and also a massive Robin Hood fan. The guy used the book as an excuse to visit Sherwood Forest, and he lives in Brazil for goodness sake - and when I saw that page, the art that was eventually used as page one of the GN, I emailed him back immediately and said "We have to do this." But it was still a dream at this point. The following week, I met with my then "Raven's Gate" editor, Emil Fortune, and while working out script changes, I mentioned in passing that I was about to start pitching this idea to a couple of publishers at the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con. he asked me to hold on that, and by the time I returned to the UK, he had an offer waiting for me that meant that Walker would take the book.

What, for you, are the essential elements of the legend of Robin Hood?

Firstly, Robin has to have a loss that makes him human. He can't just walk in with a witty quip - he has to earn the right. Marian has to be wooed. The Sheriff has to be evil - or if he isn't, then he needs his Guy of Gisbourne to be evil for him.

In my mind, you need the mainstays - the meeting of Robin and Little John has to be there. The Archery contest and the silver arrow. The stealing from the rich to give to the poor. But with all these things going in, you have to be very careful to ensure that they're still parts of a "new" story. You need to have an angle, a concept that is changeable, that shows something different to, say, the Errol Flynn movie. And because of this, you need to look at what wasn't in those early movies, what was overlooked, and play with that. I went back to the spirituality that Robin Of Sherwood had, I made Sherwood a magical place again.

What is it about comics allows you to tell the story in the specific way you did, and what aspects of the tale don’t translate well?

Well, although a comic is frame to frame, it's not moving, so you have to use a series of static shots rather than one fluid one - but this can still be used to the advantage. In all honesty, I think that comics is one of the best ways to show such a story. The only difference between a comic and a movie is that a movie has the luxury of longer dialogue scenes, which can make it more dull, or more gripping, depending on what's being talked about.

As for translating well, I don't think there were any problems with this one - everything I envisioned ended up looking better than I'd ever considered by the time it came out.

You made a few adjustments to the legend, changing Marian into widow in mourning at beginning of the book and placing Friar Tuck in the Crusades with Robin. Why make these changes, and were there any others that I missed?

Those were the main ones - I also brought Black Hugo into the stories again, and the hood that gives Robin his name is an executioner's one.

I wanted to shake the story up, yet keep the basis solid. Tuck as a Templar Friar gives him an earlier "in" with Robin and makes him a stronger fighter, but apart from that, he's effectively the same spiritual healer that he is in the other stories. And Marian as a widower came from a medieval text I read where it spoke of widowed soldier's wives becoming maids. I wanted the characters in this book to be less naive than they had been in other versions. Marian is world wise. She's had loss. She knows now what she wants and exactly how to get it.

Pages from "Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood"

Also, I was very intent on making sure that there was a little bit of me in this tale - I didn't want it to be a carbon copy story - I wanted it to be a take on the legend that, although familiar, had elements that hadn't been seen together before.

The legend of Robin Hood wasn’t originally set during the Crusades, but since Walter Scott’s "Ivanhoe," that’s become a key part of the story. Why did you keep that aspect of the legend?

Because everyone knows this story now. They all expect King Richard to arrive at the end dressed as an Abbot. They all expect Robin to be returning from the Crusades. The true stories were set a couple of hundred years later, but if I'd written this book then, I'd have had people going 'but why wasn't Richard in it?' and it'd start all over again. So I decided to write it into a specific point - the fall fo Acre and the bounty placed on Earls heads were static points that could be researched against.

You might find that in a decade we're back to 13th and 14th century Robin Hood tales, but currently the Crusades is where the story's set. It's like King Arthur pulling that sword from the stone. One day we might even forget the later tales that gave us this radical change in his story...

How much historical research did you find yourself doing for Robin Hood?

As much as you can do - I have a very earmarked version of J.C Holt's "Robin Hood," Henry Gilbert's stories, "The Gest Of Robin Hode" and a 1st edition of Andrew Lang's "Book Or Romance" in front of me as I write this. I went to Nottingham. I read every academical text I could. I contacted W. Allen Wright for his opinions.

But at the end of the day, I told a story that I knew that I would have loved as a boy. And remembered that, no matter what research I did, it was still a folk tale.

Is there anything you didn’t get to do with Robin, and do you have more ideas for returning to Sherwood Forest in the future?

I actually had a sequel planned - the original name was "Robin Hood: Outlaw's Pride" - and the sequel was going to be "Robin Hood: Outlaw's Return." It was going to be fifteen years later, and effectively be the end of Robin's story, all the way to the death scene and the whole "Where this arrow lands, bury me." I also had some twist endings based on conflicting stories of the time, I'd managed a story that tied up all the loose ends and I'd even pulled a Saracen character into it.

But by the time we'd worked it out, Walker had come up with the Heroes & Heroines branding - which, although it means we can do great stories about King Arthur and suchlike, a sequel to Robin was put on indefinite hold.

We still have the pitch and the rough notes, so we could always return to it down the line, fingers crossed!

Pages from "Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood"

I loved the note in the end from Allen Wright discussing the history behind the legend of Robin Hood. Why have that?

Because Allen helped us immensely with the story, and I wanted kids who hadn't really learned the story of Robin before to discover that there's more out there than just a comic story. That he was a fictional character, and that they should go find out about him.

And I'm a massive fan of introductions and afterwords. It's like a DVD extra.

Working on a story like Robin Hood, where the basic plot and the characters are known to people, does that make it easier to tell the story, in that it requires a bit less exposition and explanation simply by virtue of people’s familiarity with it?

No. It makes it harder, because you can't just hope that everyone knows the story. You have to imagine that actually, nobody has a clue who this guy is, and write it for an audience of blank faces. But at the time, you also know that you'll have people who do know the legends reading this, that know the legends better than you do, in fact - and so, at the same time, you have to add in little easter eggs just for them that show them that they too can enjoy new things to be seen. A passing comment, a character's name, things like that. Layer upon layer.

In what ways is that similar to working on something like "Doctor Who?"

It's exactly the same. People who read the "Doctor Who" comic are split into people who've never seen a "Doctor Who" pre-Christopher Eccleston, people who've never seen one pre-David Tennant, and the rest. The amount of people who claim to be a die hard Who fan and have never seen a "classic" Who story is staggering. And these people need to see stories that involve classic moments and characters and learn who they are. At the same time, there are classic fans who moved into "Nu-Who" and expect the classic stories to be mentioned, who insist that the whole toybox is played with.

And so, in my stories, I do find myself writing parts that have "Here you go, old school fans! Here's your little treat this month," while writing "Hey, new fans! This is a story you'll understand and be comfortable with," while trying desperately not to patronise any of them...

You’ve worked with Sam Hart before. What is it that you enjoy about working with him and what does he bring to the table?

An incredible skill. And he's a good friend now, who I see far too little of. Sam can take a script and see what I need even before I do. I get pages back where he's done something totally different, and yet at the same time, exactly what I needed. He makes me look good.

And, he loves the things we work on - so there's always an enthusiasm there that's infectious.

For your next project, you’re returning to British legend to tell the story of King Arthur. I know it’s not out until next year, but can you share a little on your take on Arthur and the Round Table?

Faeries.

Seriously. I'm going right back to the Faerie stories of the Mabinogion and the original Arthur myths, while mixing with the more modern tellings. Unseelie Fae. Avalon as Arcadia. The differences between Caliburn and Excalibur. Cloning. And a love story that you won't be expecting. Oh, and when Arthur fights Mordred? He's no older than about twenty five...

Lee will be in the U.S. for a signing at Jim Hanley’s Universe in New York on October 28 and attending Hurricane Who in Orlando, October 30 through November 1.

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TAGS:  tony lee, outlaw: the legend of robin hood, doctor who, king arthur

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