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Law of the Land: Joe Abercrombie Talks About The First Law's Journey to Comics

Bestselling author Joe Abercrombie has brought his bestselling prose series The First Law to the world of graphic novels, enlisting such talent as writer Chuck Dixon, artist Andie Tong, and colorist Peter Pantazi. The first book in the series, The Blade Itself, is currently being adapted through publisher Blind Ferret, which is currently offering the comics on comiXology and also previewing it on firstlawcomic.com. A collected print edition of the first four issues will be available later this year. We talked to Abercrombie about converting his work to a new format, and more.

The First Law

The First Law 
 
 
What made you want to turn your prose series into a graphic novel?
 
I think most writers would like to see a really good graphic novel adaptation of their work. It's fascinating seeing a set of professionals bring your characters to life, seeing how they interpret your world and your ideas. I'd had a couple of offers before, but much more traditional in terms of distribution, and this was the first one I could really see reaching enough readers.
 
You're doing a bit of a daring experiment, issuing full issues on Comixology while partially releasing it on your own website. Why the experiment? And so far, how has it been working out?
 
The thing that I found really interesting about Blind Ferret's treatment was that, by steadily issuing pages for free as well as selling whole issues via comiXology, there was the opportunity there to really get a lot of people in the door who might not take the chance at paying for something that didn't seem exactly their thing. Fans of the books who might not necessarily be comic fans, and fans of comics who might not know the books, but potentially anyone with an internet connection, could show up and follow it, get into it, quite possibly choose to pay. It just seemed a great way to build up good will and interest in the project. So far, so good, but obviously it's very early days, and these things can take a while to build up support. If things go well, we could be running for a long time, so it's very much a marathon not a sprint.
 
How closely have you been working with the creative team of Chuck Dixon, Andie Tong, and Peter Pantazi? 
 
Someone's been foolish enough to offer me total editorial control, but I try to use that power for good with a firm yet gentle hand. So Chuck's had free rein really to adapt the books as he likes. This is a pretty comprehensive adaptation --- 16 issues for The Blade Itself, so about 350 full-color pages from 500 pages of prose --- so he hasn't had to be too ruthless about cutting and can be pretty faithful to the written word. I've then looked over his scripts and occasionally swapped one bit of dialogue for another that I particularly like, or kept in some detail that might be important later, or tweaked here or there. In terms of the art, I briefed Andie on the general sort of feel I wanted and gave some references for some of the key characters and locations, then I looked over each design, each inked page, and each colored page to give some opinions, but in general I've tried to let him and Pete draw and color the way they saw it. I think when you work with an artist, you get the best results if you let them have a free hand, up to a point, and Andie's got a real flare with the design elements --- the costumes, the architecture, the faces --- that's meant that most of the time I can wave things through with a big smile on my face.
 
The First Law

The First Law
 
Was it difficult to translate The First Law to comics? Did it require any changes or concessions in the story?
 
As I say it's a pretty comprehensive adaptation, so we haven't really had to lose whole scenes or significant characters. Obviously, you lose a lot of dialogue, a lot of the thoughts and feelings of the characters, but a skillful writer and artist will get a lot of that back in the visuals. It's a very different medium --- less thoughtful, maybe, more impactful --- and you want to play to the strengths of what you're working with. It's more important to me that this is a great comic than that it's ultra-faithful to the books. So this is one possible interpretation, but it's one I'm very happy with.
 
This is a series of epics. How long do you see it taking to complete the entire trilogy in comics form?
 
I hope to live to see it completed. If we end up putting out an issue every six weeks, it might easily be six years till we're done.
 
Do you plan to move any of your other works to comics form?
 
Hah. Well, ask me in six years time, I guess…
 
So far, what has been the most difficult thing, story-wise, about turning First Law into a graphic series?
 
I honestly think it's run pretty smoothly. It's been a fair bit of work for everyone involved, me included, to get things up to speed, get a feel and a style we're happy with, but I really like what's being produced and think it's continuing to improve with every page. As big epics go, I think the books are fast-paced, quite visual, have a lot of vivid characters, action, punchy dialogue, so I think they translate pretty well to the graphic novel format.
 
Are there any big surprises that fans of First Law should expect to see in the comics?
 
If they're anything like me, it's just the quality of the art and colors, seeing the way these characters have been brought to life and started to interact with each other. Although in a sense the material's the same, I guess I wasn't really prepared for how different the experience of seeing it in this form is.
 
What has been the most satisfying to see come to life on the page?
 
No one thing, I don't think. The books are quite varied, with three main points of view and other smaller ones that cover a lot of different locations and styles of action. So I've really enjoyed seeing the different treatments these different characters get, the variety of feels Pete's been able to give the colors, the differences in costume Andie's brought to the different cultures. Seeing a new page, a new character design, a new approach with the colors, is always a thrill.
 
The First Law

The First Law

-- John Hogan