Legendary fantasy novelist and New York Times best-selling author R.A Salvatore teams up with his son Geno this April for IDW Publishing's "Dungeons & Dragons: Cutter." Featuring art by David Baldeon, the miniseries deals with dark elf Tos'un Armgo and his continuing struggle to control the sentient sword Cutter. The title is set in the "Forgotten Realms" sub-section of the "Dungeons & Dragons" universe and spins directly out of R.A. and Geno's previous comic collaboration "Dungeons & Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt: Neverwinter Nights."
The father and son writing team spoke with Comic Book Resources about returning to the world of D&D, discussing how "Cutter" continues to weave a tale from the many threads of their "Dungeons & Dragons" novels and the inherent advantages and challenges of writing comics compared to prose while Geno explains how having a fantasy icon for a father shaped his love of the genre.
CBR News: Bob and Geno, what's the gist of "Dungeons & Dragons: Cutter?"
R.A. Salvatore: Many books ago, during "The Hunter's Blades Trilogy," I introduced a dark elf, Tos'un Armgo, who had not returned to the Underdark after the battle for Mithral Hall. Through a winding, unexpected journey, Tos'un wound up living with the moon elf clan in the Moonwood. He also wound up with "Cutter," or Khazid'hea, a sentient, wicked sword. This is the story of Tos'un and his family these many years later, and the continuing influence of the sword.
Geno Salvatore: The last reference to Tos'un in the novels was during the epilogue of "The Orc King." This series picks up soon after.
Had the Cutter sword appeared in "Dungeons & Dragons" lore before the "Hunter's Blades Trilogy?"
R.A.: Oh yes. I created the sword and the Companions of the Hall had it for quite a while. There is a scene in one of the earlier books -- I forget which, where the sword dominates Catti-brie, which leads to a very confused and concerned Drizzt!
Geno: The sword first appears in "Starless Night," I believe, in the hands of a drow weapon master. It is one of my favorite characters from the "Drizzt" series -- the sword, not the weapon master -- and I was excited to get to write some of its story.
What villains or challenges will Tos'un face in "Cutter?"
R.A.: The biggest villain is the sword itself, and what it does to Tos'un's kids. Along the way, there will be lots of chopping, of course, and the fights will lead to some dramatic events in the upcoming novels.
Does the sword make the man? Considering it's a sentient sword, who is really calling the shots: Tos'un or Cutter?
R.A.: Tos'un has actually done a fine job of keeping Cutter at bay over the decades. He's survived, in a very un-drow like manner, and that's no small thing. He's calling the shots to a great extent, but will either of his kids be able to control the weapon? That's the big question.
Geno: When Catti-brie had the sword in her possession, she struggled mightily to control it, and she is extraordinarily strong-willed. So, does the sword make the man (or woman)? It all depends who holds the sword.
Shifting a bit to the technical aspect of your work, what's your writing process when co-writing?
R.A.: With these, it's side-by-side. It has to be, since many of the events in these comics will affect what I'm doing with the novels. I usually come up with the overall idea and setting, telling Geno where I think a good story might be found. He then dives in and sorts out the particulars, then we get together and storyboard it.
Geno: Right, and in both this case and with the last series we did ("Neverwinter Tales"), we've been on the same page from the beginning. In both cases, as soon as he told me what character(s) he wanted to work with, the story has just fallen in place for both of us. Last time it was Pwent; this time it was Khazid'hea.
What advantages and disadvantages are there to writing a comic book instead of a novel?
R.A.: I think Geno can speak to this one better than I, because from my perspective, this is new ground. The challenges are different, certainly, in trying to make sure there's a balance of storytelling between the words and the visuals, and over the years, I've come to understand that when the author and illustrator are on the same page, the results are pretty amazing.
Geno: It's really an entirely different form. I know that sounds perfectly obvious -- of course it's different! -- but it's a deeper difference than I realized going in. Obviously, graphic novels use more visual storytelling than novels, and novels give greater ability to look into the character's minds, etc. But really the big difference for me is the density of the story. Graphic novels are just so much shorter. To tell any kind of significant story, space on the page simply cannot be wasted.
It's similar to film or television, I think. Anything that isn't directly and immediately moving the story forward has to be cut. There simply isn't space for it.
What is it about the "Dungeons & Dragons" universe that you both love so much that you continue to return to it?
R.A.: For me, the "Forgotten Realms" is the sweet spot in my fantasy world preferences. There are many different worlds out there, of course, with different levels of magic, different numbers of races, and on and on. The "Realms" hits all the right notes for me for rock-em-sock-em, rollicking fantasy of the high magic sort.
When I want something a little more human-centric, I've got my own worlds, like "DemonWars."
Geno: Anything can happen. For me, that's the draw of the game, of the novels, of fantasy movies, of fantasy in general. Yes, there are rules. There are rules for the magic, rules for the monsters. But even those rules can be broken. (Drow are evil was one such rule, you may recall…) By reading (or writing, or watching, or filming) a fantasy story, one doesn't just suspend disbelief, one leaves it behind entirely. That's the point.
If I start reading a fantasy novel, I've given the author a simple (but not so easy) task: amaze me.
You've put out a lot of material in the "Dungeons & Dragons" universe. What are your personal favorite books or series that you've created for it?
R.A.: "Homeland" always ranks up there for me, and "The Ghost King" floored me. Just recently, though, I've considered that I might have a new favorite in one (or both, taken together) of the two books I have coming out this year, "The Last Threshold" and "The Companions."
Geno: My favorite is "Stone of Tymora", probably because that's the only novel (well, novels, as it is three-in-one) I've ever written.
What's your favorite medium to work in as opposed to your favorite medium to consume?
R.A.: Novels to work in, movies to consume. One of the bad things about being a writer, for me, is that it's very hard for me to read books while I'm writing. The other author's style just keeps creeping in, and since I'm always writing, I go to movies, or well-done television series, like "Rome."
Geno: I love writing short stories, and I'm starting to love writing graphic novels -- there are so many things I can do with a graphic novel that I cannot with short stories or novels. I tend to consume film and television, and I particularly love television series with definitive end points, such as the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot.
What other projects do you both have coming up?
R.A.: "The Last Threshold" just released and the next novel, "The Companions," is coming out in August, with two more novels coming next year, so I'm busy with that. Also, the "Neverwinter" MMO is coming soon and I've been involved with that (in blowing up the region!) and hope to do more. More comics? Hope so!
And if that's not enough, I've got a couple of side projects that I'm toying with…nothing I can talk about yet.
Geno: I've recently moved to California to pursue my longtime goal of writing for film. That said, everything I'm doing now is speculative, so I haven't got any projects to announce.
Can you talk about any of your screenplay ideas or is it still too early? What genres are you exploring?
Geno: Well, there's not too much to say, as it is currently all exploration. But I'm currently writing a modern fiction story, and when I finish that I'm planning to do a modern fantasy story. Although a recent stroke of inspiration is pushing me toward changing gears and going for that second story first.
In either case, right now this is mostly just a personal project. I have no idea if I will be able to do anything with these screenplays -- I'm just writing them because it is something I want to do.
You obviously have a great love of the fantasy genre. How influential was your father in molding your love of the genre?
Geno: He was very influential, if only because, growing up, loving fantasy and D&D and all that didn't seem "weird" to me. It wasn't until high school that I discovered D&D wasn't a socially acceptable thing, and by that time I hardly cared. Fantasy was part of who I was, and a little social pressure wasn't going to change that.
Actually, that attitude -- not caring much for social pressure -- is another influence my father had on me, but that's a bit outside the scope of this question.
As for stories, my first experience with D&D was at age six. My father ran a game for my older brother and me. He helped us roll up our characters -- fighters both, because Bryan went first and of course I had to copy him -- and off we went to the Caves of Chaos. We looked around, found a hidden cave, went in to explore and encountered an owlbear.
We were six and seven years old, and our father was running the game. One might expect he would show a bit of mercy, perhaps fudge the dice or the stats, give us a fighting chance.
Nope. The owlbear was hungry, and we were lunch.
And thus began my long love of Dungeons and Dragons, and my tendency to die in the first encounter of any new campaign. (It's become such a trend, I mostly run the games now -- if I'm the Dungeon Master, I can't die!)
Bob, on that same note, did you make an effort to introduce Geno to sci-fi and fantasy or did you lean more towards letting him discover the awesomeness of this stuff on his own?
R.A.: I served as the first Dungeon Master for Geno and his brother Bryan. I don't think I tried to introduce them to fantasy/science fiction, but it was certainly around them growing up, since I worked in the field and since my D&D group met at the house every week. It's a hobby, like softball, for me. I mean, I was also their hockey coach, basketball coach, baseball coach and I drove Geno to football practice. Fantasy was another diversion, a fun side-event in the road of life, for all of us.
Geno: And he and my mother made sure it was just that -- one part of a well-rounded childhood. For a while, I wanted to read only fantasy books. This was fine, they said -- but it couldn't be all I read. So, for every fantasy book I read, I had to read one book which was not fantasy. My mother would select something for me, usually from among the Great Books. And I, wanting to get on to the next fantasy book, would devour whatever she put in front of me.
I'm very glad for that -- both that my parents let me indulge my love of fantasy, and that they didn't let it become my only love.
"Dungeons and Dragons: Cutter," by Geno and R.A. Salvatore with art by David Baldeon, is available in stores this April from IDW Publishing.