Dynamite Entertainment released the first issue of "A Game of Thrones," based on the first novel of "A Song of Fire and Ice" by George R.R. Martin on September 21. While many folks may be more familiar with "A Game of Thrones" from the wildly popular HBO series, the adaptation by Daniel Abraham sets its sights squarely on the novel itself, pulling from the source material that made the TV show so compelling. Written by Abraham with art by up-and-coming artist Tommy Patterson, the comic promises to bring George R.R. Martin's world back to the printed page in a big way.
To discover more about the grand fantasy epic's transition to comics, CBR News spoke with Daniel Abraham about his work adapting "A Game of Thrones," his previous work bringing Martin's written creations to comics, the challenges in staying true to the novel and what to expect in the future for comics in the "A Song of Fire and Ice" saga.
CBR News: Daniel, tell us a bit about your adaptation of "A Game of Thrones." The first book is massive, how much of the story will the comic actually cover and what's the issue count and breakdown like?
Daniel Abraham: We've been very lucky with this. It was important from the beginning that we have the space to tell the story right, so the publisher and George and I were all talking from the very earliest stages of this about how to do justice to the novel. On the one hand, it would be great to just explode and have thousands of pages to really get into each individual scene, but Tommy's fingers would eventually fall off, right? We wound up at an outline of twenty-four issues at twenty-nine pages each. All told, that gives us about a page of art for every page of text in the original book. At least in the copy I have.
You've already done some great work in George R.R. Martin's "Wild Cards" universe, and fans will most likely recognize you from that, but how did you get involved in the project?
I've actually done a fair amount of adapting George's work before this. I wrote scripts for the "Fevre Dream" novel for Avatar Press and a four-issue miniseries based on George's novella "Skin Trade" that hasn't actually come out yet. I've also collaborated with him on other projects. "Wild Cards" is one, but we also wrote a novel together with Gardner Dozois called "Hunter's Run." He pretty much knows how I work, and how I work with his stuff. That gives us a certain level of trust. Plus, I live pretty close to him, so I can drive up for lunch if I need to. That's never a bad thing.
As fans of the novel know, "A Game of Thrones" is separated into three storylines: In the Seven Kingdoms, On the Wall and In the East. How will the comic take advantage of these distinct plots?
Part of what makes the translation from text into sequential art really fascinating is the tools that come into play that weren't there before. Like color palette. In the text, George has to reset the location every time with things like the point of view character and some really nice work he does with the language. For us, we can signal that shift in purely visual ways. That said, we're not trying to segregate out the different locations. Some issues will have all three, some will be more focused on one theater, but the hope is to get that sense of a single, unified, big story that comes from weaving those different locations together.
How closely will the narrative style be adapted? Will readers still get to experience the plot through multiple viewpoints?
We're trying to stay very true to the book and the story in the book. There are some things about George's style writing text that won't translate into comics, and when that happens, we're reaching for the things that are the most true to his spirit within this context. We absolutely have multiple viewpoints. We have the different landscapes. We have the sense of melancholy and grittiness. My take is that people coming to this project should be able to hear George's voice in it. I'm not the writer. I'm the adapter. The real mark of achievement for me would be that no one even notices I'm there.
Have you collaborated at all with George R.R. Martin in the process of adapting the novel to comics? If so, what's the creative process there?
I've spoken to George a lot in the process. The biggest issues we have are continuity questions. There are things about this story that only he knows, and they aren't all obvious. There was one scene I had to rework because there's a particular line of dialog -- and you wouldn't know it to look at -- that's important in the last scene of "A Dream of Spring." For that kind of issue, there's no substitute for just talking to the man himself. That said, it's very clear that George isn't writing the comic book. He's put a great deal of faith and trust in me on the actually working out of the scripts. And God forbid I get in the way of his writing "The Winds of Winter." If I get a reputation for holding that project up, I'd be hung from the trees.
Similarly, give us an idea as to your collaborative process with artist Tommy Patterson. How have the two of you been working together to bring these characters to comics?
Working with Tommy's been great. He's not someone I knew before we started the project, but he was very quick to reach out to me. We trade email and text messages, and he's been a real professional about taking feedback both from me and the editors and reworking his art to fit what we've asked for him. Second, after George, I think this is really Tommy's project. The vision and visual style he brings to this story is what people are seeing on the page, and I'm here to support him. And I have to say, every time I've done something in the script that I thought might be asking too much of him, he's been solid about going it. He wants this project to be awesome, and I have absolute respect for the work he's doing.
George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice" series has spawned a massive amount of extended lore including a roleplaying game, a card game, a board game and (of course) the massively popular HBO television series. With all these sources to draw from, did any of them enter into your creative process for the comic?
I haven't put hands on the card game or the RPG, but I was one of the beta players for the board game when George got his copy. I was already several scripts in when the HBO thing came out, and I'm really glad that I was. I had already made a bunch of decisions that were a little different from what they were doing, and that distance is important to me. The series is great work, and I admire it, but my job isn't to adapt at TV show. It's to take on the original book. That's really where my focus is.
Let's talk characters for a bit. Novels have the benefit of an incredible amount of prose to describe characters and their expressions. What was the challenge for you in adapting the larger-than-life characters of House Stark and House Lannister as well as Jon Snow, Viserys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister and the rest of the cast?
The hardest thing for me is figuring out what George did in the text to evoke these amazing characters and then find ways to either use that directly or describe it for Tommy to use. Part of what makes George's characters so amazing is the way that they expand in your mind to take on dimensions and depth, even past what's on the page. That's a real power. And there are going to be ways that our Tyrion and our Jon Snow will be different from other interpretations of the character. Finding that thing that the novel did to make them real and then doing it with our toolbox was the real work.
Was there anything in the novel that you wanted to include in the adaptation that had to get cut? The history and background. I miss the hell out of those. Sometimes in the book, you'll hit this section where it goes on for a page or two or three with this gorgeous exposition laying out the history of Westeros and the people that made it. It gives this tremendous weight and solidity to all the other action, and I wanted badly to have all that in the comic book too. I actually tried in a couple of issues to just take a page and do this almost Classics Illustrated version where we got to keep all of that in these great long text passages with some art to carry it along. It didn't work at all, but the impulse was there.
What has been the most enjoyable aspect of adapting "A Game of Thrones" for comics?
I've gotten to do a powerfully close read of "Game of Thrones." Closer, probably, than I would ever have done otherwise. And it's one of those books where the more you look at it, the more you see. It's to the point now where I'll read a sentence and think, "Oh, I see what that's setting up three books from now."
Why do you think "A Song of Fire and Ice" lends itself so well to other media, such as television, games and especially comics?
It's a great story. You can change presentations and toolboxes, but the thing that's preserved -- the thing that's strong in the first place -- is the story. Characters you care about struggle and suffer and fail and succeed, and the suspense and emotional authenticity that comes from that goes across any medium.
Of course, the story doesn't end with "A Game of Thrones." Considering the massive popularity of both the books and the HBO series, what is the future like for adaptations of the other novels?
That's really something that the fans will have to decide. I think it would be great to have the whole series available in comic book form. If there's interest in them, I think we've got the team to do it.
"A Game of Thrones" is on sale now.