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The Alchemy of Adaptation: Derek Ruiz and Daniel Sampere on The Alchemist

Sea Lion Books’ publisher Derek Ruiz has tackled one of the most beloved and life-changing books published in the relatively recent past: The Alchemist, a book cited by many as one of the most inspirational they've ever read. We talked to Derek about what it’s like to adapt a classic and how working on it inspired him personally.

Considering how beloved this book is, were you nervous to take it on?

Daniel: No, I don’t think I was nervous at all. Sure, there was a little pressure, but I figured the opportunity was there for me to stretch my artistic muscles.
Derek: I don’t think I was nervous until the work was totally out of my hands and off to the printer. Then it hit me how all our hard work was now off to be judged and reviewed and possibly translated into lots of different languages. 

If I’ve learned anything from working on adaptations this last couple of years in one capacity or another, it’s not everyone is going to like what you do. With that in mind, I try to do my very best on every project I work on and figure if I make myself happy, there are bound to be others who enjoy the work as well.

When did you first read The Alchemist?

Derek: My first time reading the book was back in February of this year. I had heard about the book beforehand but never made a real effort to read it until we were trying to figure out how we were going to adapt the book. I remember reading an interview with Will Smith where he was throwing a mountain of praise on the book, saying that it was his favorite book and explaining what its message was. This got my attention but didn’t get me to read the book at the time. I don’t know why, but I guess I was just meant to read the book when I would get the most from its message. So I read the book in a couple of hours my first time, and then read it again the next day. Since that first time up until today, I’ve read the book about 15 times. I really enjoyed the book immensely. It’s one of those books I try to recommend to everyone.

Daniel: I didn’t read the book until the project was offered to me. My agent told me I would be the one to work on the art, so I delved into the story and started to lay out the book in my head. I think it’s an amazing story with a good message.

How did you get involved in doing this graphic-novel adaptation?

Derek: I’ve worked on lots of novel adaptations in one capacity or another over the last five or six years with the Dabel Brothers and now as the VP and publisher at Sea Lion Books. Once David Dabel told me we were going to be working on an adaptation of The Alchemist, I read the book the very next day and then again the following day. The book spoke to me so much that I told David I needed to be the one to adapt it as I didn’t trust anyone else to do it justice. He gave me the go-ahead and I jumped into working on it. 

Daniel: My manager had been in contact with David Dabel at Sea Lion Books. They were looking for a project for me to work on, and we all settled on that project being The Alchemist.

How do you relate to the story of The Alchemist and how does it speak to you at this point?

Daniel: I think it’s a beautiful story, with a good message. It's a positive message about life. The message being to follow your dreams, and don't be afraid to fight for what you want in life. I think the book made the most sense to me when it revealed that all things happen for a reason, and all the things that happen are steps on the way to arriving to your dreams. In real life, things are not easy, so you have to fight a lot, and sometimes even if you fight with all your strength, you don't always get your just rewards. But you can never give up trying to succeed at making your dreams a reality.
Derek: The funny thing is The Alchemist tells us what we already know, and most of us just don’t listen to that message. We all know that following our dreams and listening to our hearts will make us happy, but lots of times we end up just sticking with the things that are easy and that make our lives comfortable. I kid you not, I believe The Alchemist is one of the steps in my success in reaching my Personal Legend.

How involved was Paulo Coelho in this project?

Daniel: I actually did not work with Paulo directly.  I had more contact with Derek for any questions or the new ideas I might have. I did hear he liked what we were doing as we went along with the work, which made me more comfortable with working on the book.

Derek: Paulo was involved a lot early on but more with giving us praise and making us feel comfortable about the work we were doing. He gave us his blessing to work on the project and we took that and did the best work we could do. I hope he is happy. I enjoyed and am very proud of the book. Artist Daniel Sampere and I worked very closely through emails. I answered any questions he had and he made any changes I requested. 

How long did it take to do this entire adaptation?

Derek: We were able to do the book a lot quicker than would normally be possible. Daniel is one of the hardest and fastest working artists I’ve ever worked with. I think we shaved about three months of work off the project because of his skills. I bow to his awesomeness and hope to work with him again soon.

Daniel: It was about three months for me, more or less. It was a lot of work in a short period of time.

Which part of the story resonates most personally for you?

Daniel: I don’t know if I have “a favorite part.” I had a close connection with the story because, as a kid, I dreamed of my personal legend, too—to become a great artist.  I guess that message is my favorite part—to follow your dream—which I am doing one piece of art at a time.

Derek: I don’t think any one part meant more to me than another. The book is better as a complete work than any one part speaking to you more than another. The book spoke to me in a way I wasn’t expecting. It made me see that for the last couple of years I have been on my own quest for my Personal Legend and working on this book would be just another step in fulfilling that.
Daniel, how did you come up with the right look for Santiago?

Daniel: As I read the book, I quickly imagined a normal boy, not too handsome but with what I thought would be considered a “good boy” face. He’d have to be strong because he is a shepherd; he is always walking around wherever he goes, so I figured his clothes should be a bit messed up, a little broken from his travels. So I took all that and created a normal boy, nothing special, but a boy that you’d see and think he is a good person.

What will readers of the original novel find different and unique about the graphic-novel version?

Derek: This graphic novel is probably the best example of a page-by-page adaption except in certain sections where Paulo let us expand the imagery somewhat. For example, we show all the stories in more detail that The Alchemist tells in the book. So it’s the same story you will get in the novel, with added visuals. I hope people pick up the graphic novel and then go on to pick up the novel to see if it speaks to them as much as it did to me.

Daniel: Derek took special attention on the little stories that the book tells, like the story about the boy and the spoon, or the tale of Narcissus, and others like that in the book. We extended the visuals to those stories and made something special, I think.

What are you working on next?

Daniel: That’s what we are figuring out now. I can’t wait to jump back into working.
Derek: On the writing end, I’m trying to figure out what should be next for me besides the couple of creator-owned things I have cooking. On Sea Lion Books’ end, we have a couple of things in the works that I’m really proud of. We have Richelle Mead’s Dark Swan series, PC Cast’s Goddess Summoning series, The Extraterrestrial Compendium, and a few more things that we should be announcing in the upcoming months.

-- John Hogan