Laurell K. Hamilton Talks Graphic Novels (and Giant Cobras)
The Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novels have sold more than six million copies and made its writer, Laurell K. Hamilton, a #1 New York Times bestselling author. Recently, Anita took on graphic-novel form, giving her many fans a chance to see their tough-as-nails heroine as depicted by top comics artists. Hamilton gave GraphicNovelReporter some behind-the-scenes information on the graphic novel process, how she wishes she could draw, and the imaginative fun of creating giant cobras.
Whose idea was it to make Anita Blake into a graphic novel?
My agent and I had talked about it, but it was actually when people started approaching us about doing a graphic novel that I went, “Oh, yeah! I could do that. That’d be cool.” The more I thought about it, the more I got excited about it and the more my agent got excited about it. So she went out and made it happen.
What’s the process of making it?
One of the things I’ve been impressed with is how much of a schedule graphic novels have. With a novel, you sit down and you write it. It takes you between six months and a year or more. Then you’re kind of done until you have another novel that could go to New York. With graphic novels, there are always deadlines. We start with the scripted action. And then we have wonderful artists. You have the scripts and then you have the artists come in and do the rough sketches. I get to see those. The roughs are really hard. That took the longest time for me to look at and see the images in the roughs and say, “Yes, that looks right.”
The most interesting thing is you get a black-and-white version with the wording put in with the images. That is really where the difference between a graphic novel and an actual novel with words really begins to change for me. Because words that work really, really well in the novel…the same dialogue might not work in a graphic novel. We have a scene in Laughing Corpse where Anita is going through a long corridor with doors with monsters and things behind it. You can hear doors rattling. And you can see in her head how afraid she is. Well, in the graphic novel, all you see is her going down the long hallway with doors. You see the doors creaking and groaning and things rattling to get out, but you don’t see the dialogue in her head as much. So I actually added more dialogue—or new dialogue—with the visuals.
How involved are you in the process of making the graphic novels?
Probably more than I should be! [Laughs] I can see everything at every step of the process. I know a lot of writers, once they get to a certain level of success, sign over their stuff to comics or whatever and they let it go. I can’t imagine anyone else being able to put new dialogue in books I wrote over a decade ago. So I prefer to do that part.
I’m not picky about what the rooms look like. They don’t have to match the interior of what I have in the book. They just need to have enough furniture to do what they need to do in the scene. It’s been very interesting that that doesn’t bother me. As long as the people and weaponry are right, I’m not picky if the interior of the apartment matches the interior of the apartment I described. It’s an apartment. You walk around and talk.
Are you picky about how the characters are drawn?
Yes. I will admit that. Minor characters, no, especially if they’re going to be in one scene. Main characters, yeah. The fans had very, very specific ideas in their head and this was their fist time to be able to see a visual. I felt I owed the fans to try to come up with the closest to my ideal—which isn’t their ideal—but it’s the closest I’ve got.
Did the artist try drawing the character in different ways?
Yeah. Brett Booth was our initial artist for the interiors. For the main characters, sometimes it was like Brett reached inside my head and plucked out the image. So that was easy. Most of the time I just went, “Yes, that looks great.” And then Ron Lim came in, and because the characters had already been drawn, he has a visual to go off of. Ron was the artist doing the interior when we brought Richard onstage.
Did you pick the people who worked on the graphic novels?
It’s not so much picked as I looked at several artists and said, “This is great.” Brett was already a fan, so he had visuals in his head. I think that’s why he was so close with his pictures. So, yes and no. I don’t sit there and look over everyone’s portfolio, but graphic novel editors in New York looked at who they had.
Do you read many graphic novels?
I don’t read as much of anything as I used to. One of the most interesting things as a writer is that the more successful you get, the less time you have to read others’ work. You’re writing your own. So not as many as I’d like to. My husband, Jonathon Green, is a huge graphic novels fan. He already knew the genre and helped me a great deal when we first put things together. I had trouble visualizing the pieces. Now I get it.
One of the things I’ve been telling friends is that the graphic novel has come of age. There’s some absolutely gorgeous stuff out there. It always makes me feel I wish I could draw.
Do people who don’t read the novels read the graphic novels?
Yes, there are people who read the graphics who hadn’t read the series. People are always saying, “You’re so well known.” Yeah, well, there’s well-known and there’s everyone-on-earth-knows-you. I don’t think so. I don’t have that big of an ego. There are people who pick up the graphic novels and didn’t know there were books attached to them. I’ve heard from a lot of people about that. I’ve also heard, of course, of people who read the novels and then want the visuals of the graphic novels. We hear from a lot of couples, actually. A lot of couples where one half the couple is a graphic novel fan and the other half reads the novel. The husband usually—though sometimes it’s the wife—shows the graphic novels to the wife or girlfriend. Shows her that there’s more to the graphic novels than she thought. It’s not like it was years ago. There are beautiful, grownup, and interesting storylines out there. Different couples are now saying they both read each other’s stuff. The gateway drug has been the Anita graphic novel to lure the other half in.
Novels and graphic novels are different mediums. How do you feel it transferred from a novel to a graphic novel?
Anita is really at heart the way it reads. The format is based on the old hardboiled detective fiction, which means it’s very, very dialogue-heavy. There are descriptions, too, but dialogue-heavy books are easier to translate. What I’ve been told is that my books are easier to translate than most books.
What’s going on with the future of your graphic novels?
We’re working on Circus of the Damned. We just finished looking over pencils and going, “Yes, this looks great. Back to New York.” Circus of the Damned has some really amazing fight scenes. We’ve already done onscreen one of my favorite fight scenes, and I was very happy with the visuals for it. Jean-Claude and all the vampires and werewolves fight a giant cobra that’s big enough to swallow a person. And, yes, I have a degree in biology; I know this does not exist. I really do know that. But I’m sorry—how can you resist?