Marvel Comics and renowned science fiction writer Orson Scott Card announced at the New York Comics Convention that the comic book publisher will soon begin adapting books from Card’s popular Ender series into comics. Ender’s Game, Card’s Hugo and Nebula Award-winning book about a young military prodigy battling an alien army, and Ender’s Shadow, a concurrent novel about another child soldier, will launch as comic books with the first Ender’s Game collection. Card, who also scripts the Ultimate Iron Man comic for Marvel, talked with PWCW about making the jump to the comics medium, and bringing his most famous books along with him.
PW Comics Week: What drew you to comic books initially, when you started writing Ultimate Iron Man?
Orson Scott Card: I wasn't drawn to comic books. I didn't like superheroes or supervillains, and I especially didn't like Iron Man. But I was drawn to the frozen-movie aspects of graphic storytelling, and regarded it as a challenge I wanted to tackle "someday." Then an astonishingly good editor at Marvel, Nick Lowe, kept after me… and sold me on the Ultimate [universe] version of Iron Man, [saying] that I could reinvent the backstory, create a superhero whose motives were intelligible, whose story would be intriguing. And I could create villains that I could believe in, human beings with complex motivations. That's what became irresistible. And as Nick worked with me to help me learn what I was doing, more or less, I ended up doing work I could be proud of.
PWCW: What has kept you in the comics industry, when you have such a well-established and highly-lauded career in novel writing?
OSC: I'm not really "in" the comics industry. I'm still a visitor. But I admire the work that others do, and I have enjoyed my dabbling. I couldn't make a living from comics—you have to work too hard and meet too many deadlines, and I think I would have been fired from Ultimate Iron Man long ago if I were actually a full-time comics writer. I've been doing it sort of "between projects," and a good comics series deserves better. Novels are still my bread and butter.
PWCW: Did Marvel approach you for the Ender’s Game project, or did you decide that you wanted to do a comic adaptation?
OSC: The moment I got the comic book and game rights extracted from the [Warner Bros.] movie option deal, I let Marvel and others know about the availability. I truly was open-minded about who would end up doing the books, depending on what their plans were. Marvel got there first, with a terrific, ambitious plan for Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow, and because I already knew them and trusted the quality and integrity of their work and the people I'd be working with, I treated it as a preemptive bid and withdrew from all other discussions.
PWCW: How is writing an original comic like Ultimate Iron Man different than adapting your own work, like Wyrms or Ender's Game, into a comic?
OSC: Comics are as different from novels as novels are from movies. It's a new art. I am forced to think visually in a way I normally don't. I'm notorious for describing nearly nothing in my novels. Now I'm forced to write clear descriptions of places, people, and events so that an artist has a hope of figuring out what I'm talking about. I have to mentally pace the story so that I don't ever have even a full page of talking heads—things have to happen. In a novel I can sprawl, indulge myself, digress; comics have to be tight, with nothing wasted. So many times I've come to my 22 or 23 pages with the story only half told and had to go back and find places to cut. I never had any difficulty finding them. Even though I had tried to write economically, I always overwrote and cutting was always appropriate.
That's with the original story of Ultimate Iron Man; I could never adapt my own novels into comic book form. It needs someone else's eye to find the comic book in the novel; to me, the novel is already the whole story, and I would never be able to be ruthless enough to cut it down to size and give it the right shape. It's been ten years or more for me to learn how to do that with the movie script of Ender's Game; for the comic book I'd be starting that process all over again. Not worth the time for me to go through that learning curve. It's better to have somebody more skilled at comics writing than I am do the job. [Note: The Ender’s Game comic will be scripted by X-Force writer Chris Yost.]
PWCW: Will the narrative with Ender Wiggins at battle school and the reality revealed at the end of the story be structured any differently in the comic book format?
OSC: We're still deciding whether to go with the way I'm handling that issue in the movie script or the way it's handled in the novel. Probably somewhere in between.
PWCW: What kind of a response do you expect from fans? Do you see a lot of preexisting crossover between comic book fans and readers of your novels?
OSC: I have no expectations. Marvel knows the business; I don't. I hope the response will be enthusiastic. I know that they will do the quality of work that will deserve such enthusiasm. But readers are free to make up their own minds, and I'm realistic enough to know that success depends partly on luck. All I can do is try to make sure that the parts I have control over or influence on are as good as they can possibly be.
If I knew how to create a hit, don't you think I'd do it every time? I always write the best novel I know how to write, but I can never predict audience response. The same is true of comics — though with Marvel's expertise and experience, I'm getting help of a kind and quality that a novelist just can't hope for!
PWCW: Are there any plans to translate Ender's Game to other media like video games?
OSC: The game I never want to see is the standard "movie adaptation," where you play the hero and go through the events of the movie. Ick. Boring. You play it once, solve the puzzles, that's it, it's done. Who cares? My model is what LucasArts has done with the Star Wars franchise. The different games are fun in themselves, and not just because you're nostalgic for the movie. I want to have a lot of Ender's Game games, focusing on each pivotal experience. Chair Entertainment of Provo, UT, is creating the Battle Room game. I'm talking to other gamewrights about the massively multiplayer online version of the game, the space battle game, the space strategy game, and so on. I can see a dozen different kinds of game coming out of the Ender universe. What matters is that each one be the best of its kind, and be so compulsively playable that you want to go back and play it again and again.