The comics adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2005 novel Anansi Boys kicks off on June 26, when Dark Horse Comics will publish the first issue of the comics adaptation by writer Marc Bernardin, artist Shawn Martinbrough, and colorist Chris Sotomayor. The adaptation of Gaiman’s story about Fat Charlie, the son of the trickster god Anansi, will be published first as an eight-issue series and then next year as a graphic novel. Gaiman’s novel is also being adapted into an Amazon Prime series that is set to launch on July 11.

Bernardin has a lengthy resume as a comics creator, journalist, screenwriter. The supervising producer on Star Trek: Picard, Bernardin’s graphic novel Messenger: The Legend of Muhammad Ali (First Second, August 2023), a collaboration with artist Ron Salas, was nominated for a 2024 Eisner Award. Nonetheless, for a writer to adapt the work of another writer, especially one of Gaiman’s stature, is a challenge. We talked with Bernardin about how he and his collaborators transformed the story into a new format.

How did you approach this project?

My perspective, when it comes to adaptation, is very Hippocratic: Do not leave this patient in a worse state than when you got there. I think Neil appreciated that. When he started reading the scripts, as they were coming through, he gave a couple of notes here and there: “Are you sure you want to do this? Maybe this? Maybe this?” And then, after a while, there were just no notes. It's like, ‘You're doing what I would hope you would do, which is do the book. Add what you need to add, shift where you need to shift, caress and reform as you need to.’ But otherwise, I'm not reinventing the wheel.

Often only the artist is credited in a graphic novel adaptation. What part do you play as a writer?

I've read other prose to comics adaptations, and they start to feel thick, in that all of the descriptive stuff that’s in prose tends to get ported over almost directly into print. Part of my job was to understand that these are two different mediums, and we can adapt this in ways that that both amplify the intent of the original work and don't burden newcomers by leaving them asking, “What am I supposed to take away from this? This kind of feels like it's a hybrid, not one or the other?”

The other thing is that this is a funny book, and comedy in comics requires timing, and timing requires a certain amount of engineering. It's playing with page turns, it's playing with panel iterations. Playing very specifically with those tools is a lot of where the adaptation work came in. It's distillation more than it’s invention. It’s trying to get under the hood and figure out how it's working and why it's working the way it's working, and then transpose that new knowledge into comic book form.

How do you get the sense of the prose passages across to the reader without filling the page with text boxes?

I let the dialogue do a lot of that work, like when Fat Charlie could speak, when Papa Nancy could speak, letting the captions always be in somebody's perspective and not just the authorial voice.

How did you change the pacing of the novel to make it work as both single issue comics and, ultimately, a graphic novel?

My first lesson in adaptation came from William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade. His chapter on adaptation goes something like, “I read the book once, and then I put it down. Then I try to tell somebody the story of the book, and the things that I remember to tell them are the things that I think are important in that story.”

So I was reading Anansi Boys looking at the moments we have to hit. “Hey, you have a brother!” “Your father's dead.” Those things needed to be big, and they needed to have their moments in the sun. And then it came like a little bit of condensation to get those things to land accordingly, a little bit of expansion to fill some space, a little bit of moving some of the classic Anansi stories around so that we know who that character is, that he’s not just Charlie’s father but also the trickster god of myth.

What have you added or changed that wasn’t in the original?

This was one of the few early Neil Gaiman notes. Fat Charlie goes back to Florida, and he meets this sort of coven of Florida women, the four ladies led by Mrs. Higgler. I know these women. Growing up in in New York, from a Caribbean family, I have met a lot of these women. However, my grandfather was from Trinidad, and Trinidad is 60% Black and 40% Indian, because it was a British colony. So I wanted to make one of these women Chinese, because there are Chinese Jamaicans, who came in the early 1900s and have lived there for generations, because Jamaica was a British colony and Hong Kong was a British colony.

Neil said, “You realize all these women are Black?” I said, “Well, no, they're all Caribbean, but they can all be from different ethnic backgrounds, and I think it's actually kind of nice to show that there is a bit of diversity within that community.” He said, “Okay, but when we get hell for that, I'm telling them you did it.” [laughs] I will take that blame. But I just I like to challenge those kinds of things when we can—when they make sense for the story.

What was the hardest part of doing this adaptation?

Trying to hammer chronology onto prose that feels resistant to it. There are times when Neil would just be writing and he'd be spanning wide gulfs of time, because you can do that in prose—you can be anywhere at any moment in time that you want to be. But in comics, I wanted it to make sense, in a very grounded, concrete way.

I had to figure out ways to get across the emotional points that that Neil's prose gets across, but in 20 pages and in a way that still has some emotional heft and narrative flow to it. Those were the moments that were the hardest.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.