Yesterday, we posted the first issue of Dark Horse’s comic adaptation of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s vampire trilogy, “The Strain”, online for readers to check out for free.
Bloody-Disgusting spoke with series writer David Lapham to chat about where the book is heading when the second story-arc “The Fall” #1 hits stores on July 17th, 2013. Lapham has become the master of the modern day horror with his work on “Crossed”, “Ferals”, and his adaptation of “The Strain”, as he continues to pump some of the best horror books on store shelves. David was kind enough to sit down and speak at length about his work on “The Strain”, what it’s like to work directly with Guillermo del Toro, and how you approach an adaptation of established property from a creative standpoint.
Bloody-Disgusting: Talk a little bit about how you initially got involved with the comic adaptation of The Strain. Were you a fan of the books? Did you pitch Dark Horse or did they seek out you?
David Lapham: Dark Horse called me and said Guillermo wanted me to write it. Maybe they held a gun to his head, maybe I was 99th on his list and everyone else said no, but I’m happy he asked!
BD: How do you approach adapting a pose novel into comic format? How did you decided which moments from the book to include in the comic?
DL: Well first I read the books. At the time only the first two were finished. I had not read the books before, but I was certainly aware of GDT’s work and knew it would be a good fit for me. After I read the books I bought the audio versions and listened again while I worked. Then I broke down the books scene by scene and made a kind of index to help me navigate the books and also become very familiar with the sequence of events. After that I had to think how I wanted to approach the book, what I could fit, what would work in a comic, etc. The Strain was the hardest in this, because it has so many vignettes and characters and events that happen before boiling down to the central cast. Also, I knew I couldn’t wait till the third or fourth issue before bringing in some vampires and horror. So in that there were events cut and characters trimmed. I shuffled the events to bring certain parts to the beginning, like the Ansel Barbour storyline. I wanted to get him changing ASAP to get the horror going. I also knew that a lot of the CSI stuff wouldn’t work so well in a comic. In print where you can put a lot of explanation it it works and in TV or film cutting open bodies will work really well, but in a comic it would take too many panels without getting across the horror. So those elements I trimmed back. Anyway, once I have an idea of how I would approach the story I write up an outline and then talked it over with the editors and with Guillermo and away I went. I was very lucky in that Guillermo was very open to the comic being the comic version of his story and not the comic book Cliff Notes of his story. One of the great advantages of working with a creative person who understands the creative process.
In deciding what to keep and what to cut are a few factors, the first is that you only have so much space in a comic. 22 pages for 11 issues. It’s a lot but not as much room as a novel where you can just add another page. An action scene in a novel that takes one paragraph might take 3 or 4 pages in a comic. So you have to boil things down. Is that scene necessary to the central story? Can I combine two or three events into one and hit all the major story and character bits? Can I reinvent this scene to get to the same goal but in a way that works better in a comic book? Etc. There’s really no formula, you just have to be aware that every time you cut something or change you have to make sure it doesn’t make the story fall apart later down the line.
BD: Is it harder for you as a creator to adapt a book that already has a devoted following of fans with high expectations for the comic?
DL: No. Projects are harder and easier for a lot of reasons, but fan expectation has never been a concern for me. Course I’ve never sold a million comics…hmmm….I will say I did want to “impress” Guillermo, if that’s the right word. Meaning he’s a great creator, so I wanted to show his faith in me was not misplaced. Ultimately, though, all I know is how to do the best job I can do. You can only ever be you. It’s the only way you can possibly be any good. Anyway, If a story is too hard it probably means I’m not all that enthusiastic about doing it. In this case the Strain stories just clicked in with me. They’re work for sure, but not hard in the struggling sense.
BD: How much involvement and input do writers Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan have on your version of the comic?
DL: Guillermo del Toro’s taken the lead of the two of them. I know he’s a big comic book fan so I assume it’s more his love. That said, Guillermo has given Mike and myself as close to free reign as you’d ever have the right to expect. We know we’re here to tell the Strain story and not go off and make a space opera, and Gullermo will speak up if he feels strongly about a point he wants in there, but I imagine he likes to be surprised and entertained by what we’re doing.
BD: When the first mini-series ends, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather has become somewhat of a fugitive and his family has been shattered. Where do we find him with the start of The Fall?
DL: The Fall picks up just a couple days after the Strain ends. It’s a totally different segment of the story so it clearly stands as it’s own novel, but it’s basically a direct continuation. We saw Eph’s life shattered at the end of The Strain. Now, in the Fall, he’s really a changed man. Everything he was as a doctor and a scientist no longer applies. Guys like Gus and Vasiliy Fet are in much better positions. They’re natural warriors and killers which is where the world is moving. Not only is Eph losing his family he’s becoming unimportant, and he’s struggling with that badly. He comes up with some pretty insane ideas to try and make things right. Plus he’s drinking like a fish, which is always smart when the world is ending an people are counting on you.
BD: Ephraim is walking this tightrope where he’s balancing his family, his developing relationship Dr. Nora Martinez, and the vampire plague all the the same time. The feeling that at any moment any of those could take him under is really one of the highlights of the first series.
DL: Yes, and as I’ve said to others the title of the book is The Fall. So, take that at things not looking so good for Dr. Goodweather.
BD: How does Eph’s battle with alcoholism factor in this next series?
DL: It’s a sign of his mental state. His feelings of being an ineffectual father, doctor, leader. It’s overwhelming. It’s a sign of him checking out, distancing himself from the people he’s failing. Will he overcome that? We’ll see.
BD: The Strain: The Fall #1 is the launch of the second series, and a continuation of the first 11-issue mini-series from last year. How do you make the series accessible to new readers that might be coming on board with this issue?
DL: You start by approaching it as a brand new book. Never assume people read what came before, or even if they did, never assume that they remember or want to go dig up all their old comics to catch up. Reset. Reintroduce the characters and the world and go forward. No reason you can’t read the Fall without reading The Strain. It may spoil some things when you go back and pick up the Strain after knowing where the characters are in The Fall, but you certainly won’t be lost.
BD: For fans that haven’t picked up The Strain yet, give us your to pitch to them to give it a shot…
DL: Pure horror. These are vampires done in a way you haven’t seen before. And done in a way where the stakes are global but it’s so insidious that it keeps that intimate horror of the vampire myth. No touchy feely vampires, no sparkly vampires. No crying vampires. Just scary as hell how-are-we-going-to-survive-them vampires. Its a great epic horror story.
BD: The Strain is being adapted into an FX television series and is gearing up to shoot a pilot starring Corey Stoll and Kevin Durand. Is it strange to see the TV series take shape with actors who are being cast as characters that your currently writing?
DL: I thinks it’s really cool. I hope it’s a huge success and make people want to buy the comics! Other than that, I’m not involved in the show so I have no comparison. I don’t know what their approach to the story is, how they adapted the books into the show. I don’t even know which characters the two actors you mentioned are playing!
BD: You’ve been writing a lot of horror books as of late, with Crossed and Ferals at Avatar and The Strain at Dark horse. What is it about the horror genre as a whole and dark, twisted subject matter that you seem to have no problem inspiration in?
DL: Horror and Noir, two genres I’m known for are very similar in that they play on elements of suspense and tragedy. Two REALLY good elements for a comic book story especially ones without superheroes. They both bring out that heightened reality which is great for human drama. Horror adds more fantasy elements which makes it crazy fun to write. Beyond that I’ve always been draw to darker subjects. I don’t know why, just that I know I can bring something special to that. I can, I feel, really communicate twisted inner turmoil and turn it outward in a story. It’s why I’m writing this from a prison cell, I guess. (Kidding.)
“The Strain” Vol. 2 is in stores now.
“The Fall” #1 hits stores on July 17th, 2013.