Since the graphic novel boom began over a decade ago, many well-known authors have dabbled in writing comics—or adapting their works to comics. Recently authors Margaret Atwood, Chuck Palahniuk, and William Gibson have all written (or announced) original comics projects in the hope of gaining new fans—and sales.
Atwood is both writing and drawing a story for the upcoming anthology The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, but her first ongoing comics project is Angel Catbird, the start to a proposed trilogy about a man who becomes a cat-bird hybrid superhero who protects wildlife. The book is drawn by artist Johnnie Christmas and will be released by Dark Horse in September.
Gibson and his friend actor Michael St. John Smith are cowriting Archangel, which debuted in May as a serialized comic from IDW. Drawn by Butch Guice, it’s a time-traveling tale of Nazi flying saucers, featuring many ofthe recurring themes in Gibson’s work.
These novelists are moving to comics to present original concepts and ideas with literary underpinnings, a move that shows how the barriers between the literary and comics worlds have disappeared. It’s also a way to interact with readers in the intense and personal way that comics offer. Both Atwood and Gibson attended the recent San Diego Comic-Con, and Atwood was one of the stars of the event, wearing cat ears and analyzing Marvel’s Punisher character on panels.
Atwood is a long time comics dabbler; in the 1970s she drew a comic strip called Kanadian Kulture Komic under a male-sounding pseudonym, and she’s drawn cartoons about her book tours for her website and illustrated a children’s book. She said her past experience writing scripts and screenplays helped with transitioning to comics, but freelance editor Hope Nicholson, Dark Horse editor Daniel Chabon (brother of Michael) and Christmas helped teach her some of the tricks of the comics trade, like page-turns. “There has to be a cliff-hanger. Charles Dickens knew what he was doing,” Atwood said.
Interviewed at Comic-Con, she recalled her earliest efforts to draw comics, with her brother. “His were superheroes; mine were flying rabbits and a flying cat with wings.” Atwood has long harbored the idea for Angel Catbird but thought her artistic skills weren’t up to drawing it. The idea lay dormant until she met Nicholson, who recruited her into The Secret Loves of Geek Girls and connected her with Dark Horse.
Like Atwood, Gibson read comics as a kid, and daydreamed about being a cartoonist, but didn’t have the artistic chops. Moreover, he avoided getting into comics partly because his children were so enamored with the medium. (Claire, his daughter, went on to become the coauthor of From Under Mountains, a graphic novel published by Image.) Although he’d read works by Robert Crumb and Alan Moore, he wasn’t immersed in the comics world. “I was glad it was there, but I was doing words in a row, and they were doing something else.”
Archangel started out as an idea that he and actor Smith had pitched to a German TV producer, but a story about Nazi flying saucers wasn’t quite what the producer was looking for. “There was revulsion when it was mentioned. It was a hard no,” Gibson laughed, recalling the story in IDW’s booth at Comic-Con. The idea kicked around for a while, until he was approached by IDW for something, and “they were immediately extremely enthusiastic.”
Even though his books Neuromancer and The Difference Engine have inspired dozens of comics, Gibson has long been a holdout for the comics medium. He says he “never felt superior [to it], but I felt like I didn’t want to crowd my kids’ culture. This is my first trip to Comic-Con, and Claire’s been here five or six times.” Readers’ response to Archangel has been enthusiastic thus far, and Gibson is pondering developing “something that could only be a comic.”
Palahniuk released Fight Club 2, the sequel to his acclaimed novel Fight Club, in comics form last year, with art by Cameron Stewart. Originally released as a 10-issue monthly periodical, the collected edition of Fight Club 2 was published in hardcover and trade paperback by Dark Horse in June. Palahniuk said a third book, Fight Club 3, is in the planning stages.
Fight Club 2 is a direct sequel to the novel and finds the unnamed narrator—now called Sebastian—married to Marla. Palahniuk was inspired to turn to comics after a dinner party with comics writers. “Here they were, promising to teach me a new form of storytelling, and offering me entre to the fun-filled world of comics and conventions,” Palahniuk wrote in an email to PW. “After 20 years of home-alone novel writing, I would’ve agreed to rob a bank just for the company.” Although he had been approached to write comics when Fight Club originally appeared, learning a new medium didn’t seem as attractive then.
Making Fight Club 2 presented a learning curve, as it often does for writers who switch from prose to the scripting format of comics. Palahniuk credits editor Scott Allie and artist Stewart with helping him adapt his ideas. Though Palahniuk was at first reluctant to try comics, he seems hooked now. “If I’d had a clear career path to comics years ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated to write them,” he wrote. “There is an embryonic Fight Club 3, but I’ve set it aside while I hunt for some really bold ideas to add. In Fight Club 3, I want to overwhelm my readers.”