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TheRaider.net Features Interviews Indy Comics Writers
 
Indiana Jones Comics Writers
by Shipwreck - posted on July 29, 2008
 

Dark Horse Comics Writers

Rob Williams is a British-based comic book writer and journalist. He currently completed writing the new Indiana Jones series from Dark Horse - Indiana Jones and the Tomb of the Gods. His comic book credits include Wolverine for Marvel, Star Wars: Rebellion and Star Wars Tales for Dark Horse Comics, Low Life, The Ten-Seconders and Judge Dredd for 2000AD and Cla$$war for Com.X, which Wizard magazine voted the best indy superhero comic of the year in 2002.

Philip Gelatt was born in the Midwest, but has mostly lived in New York for the last ten years. He has also worked across the film industry as an assistant, coordinator, script reader, and researcher. Indiana Jones Adventures: Volume One is his first published comic work through Dark Horse. His next comic work, Labor Days is drawn by Rick Lacy and will be published by Oni Press.

 

Thanks for joining me, guys. So, where to begin? How did each of you come to be involved with Dark Horse and the Indy comic adventures?

Rob Williams (RW): I've been writing for the Star Wars comics with Dark Horse for the past few years, and I've really enjoyed that. When the editors on the Star Wars line revealed that they'd be launching new Indy comics I decided to forego the reticent and just pretty much begged to be allowed to pitch for the Indy books. Eventually they took pity on me and allowed me to have a shot at it. I think Raiders is about as good as movie entertainment gets, so I'm a big fan.

Philip Gelatt (PG): I'm working on a comic for another company with a guy who had done some art for the Clone Wars Adventures books and he mentioned to me that Dark Horse didn't have a writer yet for the Indiana Jones Adventures books. So, I got permission to pitch a story and basically spent a fevered ten days writing up a pitch, convinced the whole time that I'd never actually get the gig. Turned it in, again, convinced that it would get shot down immediately. And to my surprise, it got the go ahead.

Can you describe in more detail the role or expertise each of you are bringing to the current Indiana Jones installment?

RW: I'll be writing the initial four-issue Indiana Jones adventure, Indy and the Tomb of the Gods.

PG: I wrote Indiana Jones Adventures: Volume 1. It's the all ages Indy book, a stand alone, globe trotting adventure. I don't know that I brought any expertise to writing it, per se, but I tried to do my darnedest to make it a satisfying Indy book, filled with historical details, thrills and spills.

What were your thoughts when invited to revive Indiana Jones through Dark Horse again?

click to enlarge
Tomb of the Gods comic cover - issue #1.

RW: As I said earlier, I was absolutely thrilled. It all comes back to being a kid and being a huge fan of Indy and Star Wars. As a 'grown-up,' having the opportunity to actually write their adventures is a dream come true. Also, it does bring with it a certain pressure. You have to get the characters right. There's a lot of passionate fans out there who will holler loudly if they think you're slipping away from the character's core. But it's fun. You know the movies, you have a feel for what's right. After all, as I say, I'm primarily a fan too.

PG: This is actually my first published comic book work. My thoughts, upon being asked to write the book, went something like "oh my sweet god what have I gotten myself into I can't possibly write a character as big as Indiana Jones. Just thinking about him leaves me slack jawed and star struck." So yeah, I felt huge pressure. But you know, once I got into it, it wasn't that bad. Indiana Jones is a character that I grew up with and it was really fun and a great honor to get to write a story for him.

Can you share with us how the comic’s story is created?

RW: I stare at the wall until I cry and smash my computer up. Then I finally drink lots of coffee, sit down and get on with it. The ideas come from all sorts of areas. With Tomb the book's editor, Jeremy Barlow, and I started knocking a few ideas back and forth until we hit on one we were both excited by. Then I kind of fleshed it out into pitch form, saying what I thought an Indy comic series should have that the movies don't have. Then you do some research. Then it's the tricky business of nailing the plot breakdown, and you go through a few drafts of that, taking on board editorial comments on the way. Then you finally get to the scripting stage. It's a tough process. The version we're currently on has lost characters and entire scenes from the initial version. It's a challenging process.

PG: My process was probably simpler than Rob's as my story is shorter than his and the stakes not quite as high. To get the job, I basically had to have a full-fledged story already written out in synopsis form. So for me, it was a lot of sitting in a corner of my apartment trying to remember every cool thing I'd ever read about every culture in the world and then trying to figure out how to involve Indy in them. I think I scrapped two complete adventure ideas before settling on the one that I actually went with and that got approved.

After that, I pitched the story. The editor gave it the go ahead. And then it went over to Lucasfilm for their approvals; they had to okay the story on both a character level and a continuity level. And from there I just sank my teeth into getting the script done; which is actually pretty challenging, as you want every scene to feel necessary to the story but not too deliberate. So it feels like it's all flowing logically. This involves thinking of traps and ways around traps and ways of triggering traps and locations for Indy to visit and locales for Indy to get chased through and lines of Indy-esque dialogue and well... it's a real process.

Wait, Philip - the script? I didn't know that comic books were written in script format. Can you tell us more about that?

click to enlarge
Writer Philip Gelatt

PG: Yep, most comics start as scripts. And certainly the ones that have a separate writer and artist start as scripts. A comic script basically gives you the whole comic but in words. I'm trying to think how best to describe it. I mean I'll basically say "Page 1 Panel 1" and then I'll describe the image we see, you know like "Marcus walks in from the cold, his jacket pulled tight up around his face. The hotel lobby around him is lit by a roaring fire and Marcus is obviously looking for someone." Something like that. And then you write in the dialogue as well. Format wise, comic scripts tend to look like something between a film script and a novel.

It's a real mind exercise though, as you don't quite know how the artist will draw what you're describing and I'm still at the point where I'm kind of paranoid about how much dialogue you can fit into a panel. I always have moments where I'm afraid that someone will look at my script and not be able to figure out a damn word that I'm writing.

I really like to view comics as an collaborative art more than anything else, so I try to make the script read like a conversation. Like I'm talking to someone about how I think it should look, and then they can interpret that as they want.

Ethen (the artist on my book) has done a remarkable job with my script; he's changed a few things, as he sees fit, but every change has made it that much better. There were some sequences in there that I was really worried wouldn't play right on the page, but he managed to fix any of my oversights.

In fact, one of my favorite things about writing comics is having the panels come back to me to see how they actually look. In all honesty, they normally look very little like how I pictured them but almost without fail, they look better than I thought they would.

I understand that when creating a story for Indiana Jones there are probably some guidelines and dos & don’ts. How much freedom are you allowed in creating the comic and how involved is Indy’s creator, George Lucas, if at all?

click to enlarge
Cover of
Indy Adventures: Volume 1

RW: I think, if I remember correctly, the only guideline I was given was that the story would take place in '36, between Temple and Raiders, and that Marion and/or Abner Ravenwood weren't to be involved. Apart from that there's been a fair amount of freedom. If you've seen and loved the Indy movies, you get the tone and the character and go from there. And editorial will pull you up on anything that shouldn't be included. As for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, I'm pretty sure that they have no direct involvement, although everything is cleared through Lucasfilm.

PG: My guidelines were similar to Rob's. I was told that my story should take place before the films, that they wanted a younger Indy for this book which suited me just fine. And then after turning in my synopsis I was given a few more guidelines. For example, I tried to have a story where the object Indy was hunting didn't get lost at the end, figuring that'd be a fun spin on the normal form. But I was told that that particular point of Indy storytelling was something I had to use. There were a few other things too, but ultimately everything they asked me to change was pretty easy to change and made the story better than it had been.

I was, actually, expecting more notes on how I had written Indy. I think I thought I was being edgier than I actually was in writing him. I really wanted him to have a desperation about him in this book, to be a bit of a scoundrel. And that went over just fine.

I honestly don't know how involved Lucas is with the approval process for the books. I'd imagine he is involved in a kind of general approval level.

Will we see any characters from past issues brought into the new series of Indiana Jones comics, even if they don't appear in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?

click to enlarge
Marcus Brody in
Indiana Jones Adventures.

RW: I can't speak for the future but, with Tomb the only existing Indy character you'll see is Marcus. We're giving Indy an entirely new cast here, with new regular characters who'll reappear as the series progresses. We want to give these Indy comics a feel all of their own and make them friendly to new readers.

PG: In Indy Adventures I have Marcus, as well. As well as a certain familiar, dastardly Frenchman. And Dr. Jones Sr. gets a name drop, though he doesn't appear in the book itself. I don't know what will happen in the second Volume of Indy Adventures, but I'd imagine the book will start to build its own stable of characters.

What has been your favorite Indiana Jones film and how did it inspire or affect your work?

RW: It's Raiders for me, definitely. The tone, the balance between reality and fantasy, with just the right amount of supernatural. It's near perfect. I've been studying it for writing this series, breaking it down into scenes, trying to gauge the pacing. It's an astonishingly good screenplay. Everyone remembers the action sequences but the dialogue's wonderful, the characters and the choices they make are so memorable. Raiders takes some beating. The other two Indy movies both have their moments, but…

PG: Again, I have to agree with Rob. Raiders is the best Indy film and I've gotten into many a loud and exhaustive fight on the issue. It's the one I watched a back to back before writing my book as well. Though, I have to say, the opening sequence in Temple of Doom is just as good as anything in Raiders. With the added bonus of the musical number, that really bring something fantastical and appealing to the proceedings.

As for the specific influence Raiders had on Indy Adventures, I tried to play it like a direct prequel to Raiders (or Temple of Doom, chronologically speaking). Tried to make it feel like this is an adventure Indy could have easily had before the bigger adventures in the films. The more I worked on the story I was doing, the more I realized that a lot of what I was doing was taking direct inspiration from Raiders; similar locations, a few similar setups, things like that. That film is really something and I couldn't, nor did I want to, escape its influence.

Will future storylines be independent from issue to issue or will we again see comic sagas like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis?

click to enlarge
A scene from
Tomb of the Gods.

RW: I think you'll be looking at individual separate arcs that can pull in new readers each time, and that can easily fit into the graphic novel format. But, as I've said, certain characters will reappear. Part of the plan for the new series was to give Indy recurring bad guys and accomplices, get the readers to like these new players, and put them in real danger, because Indy's always going to make it out alive. But those with him…maybe not.

PG: Indy Adventures will probably be all stand alone books, as that's how the all-ages things tend to go. They're fun books though, they move quick and they give you a full story in one burst.

Can you give us a glimpse into the timeline of new Indy comics? For example, would they fill in the gaps leading from I
ndiana Jones and the Last Crusade to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or be random issues of Indy adventures?

RW: Like I said earlier, Tomb takes place in 1936. Where we go from there we'll have to see.

PG: I suspect with Indiana Jones Adventures the books will stay pretty much before the movies themselves. But this is up to the editors, more or less.

Finally, TheRaider.net has been receiving more and more fan created comic drawings. What advice could you give to those seeking a career in comics? What are some things they could do to learn the skills necessary to the task?

RW: From a writer's point of view I'd advise learning your craft. A lot of people just think you can either write or you can't. That's nonsense. You can learn structure. You can learn economy of dialogue and pacing. Read books such as Writers on Comics Scriptwriting by Mark Salisbury, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud and Story by Robert McKee (which is about writing screenplays, primarily, although most of what he says translates to writing any stories). Writing's like learning a musical instrument, the more you practice, the better you'll get.

PG: If you want to write comics, then you need to read comics and pay extra close attention to how the stories you love get told. Watch movies too, and don't just watch them for their stories but look at how they're constructed. Look at how long it takes them to get from one plot point to another. I really think that one of the most important things you can learn about storytelling is how to manipulate the pace of a story. A bad story that is paced really well will leave people thinking they've heard a good story. And a good story, expertly paced, well... that's a powerful thing. Beyond that, you have to try to make connections, meet people in comics, and go from there. And frankly, I'm pretty new at the whole writing thing, so I probably shouldn't be giving too much advice.

Thanks a million guys! This has been a lot of fun. Our Indy fans, TR.N staff and myself wish all the best and continued success!

To learn more about Rob Williams visit him online at robwilliamscomics.co.uk and don't forget to grab your copy of Volume One of the new Dark Horse Indiana Jones Adventures comic! You can learn more by visiting darkhorse.com.

 

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