EXCLUSIVE: Writer Jonathan Maberry on Books, Comics, Movies, DoomWar, The Wolfman and more!
In this fascinating interview, the best-selling writer talks to me about all of the above along with a lot, lot more! Plus, find out here about his secret comic book project that ties into a future Marvel movie...
I recently got in touch with the Jonathan Maberry who was kind enough to answer my questions about his work in novels and comic books as well as sharing his thoughts with me on the upcoming Marvel movies. Below, he talks about the planned adaptations of his books, the differences between writing books and comics, his current hit series DoomWar, which characters he’d like to see on the big screen next, what it was like to write the novelisation for The Wolfman and reveals what he thinks about Joe Johnston directing The First Avenger: Captain America! The writer also reveals some new information on a currently secret project which ties into one of the upcoming Marvel Studios movies! Read on to find out more and be sure to have your say in the usual place!
Jonathan Maberry is a New York Times best-selling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator and writing teacher/lecturer. His books have been sold to more than a dozen countries.
His novels include the Pine Deep Trilogy: Ghost Road Blues (winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel), Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising; the Joe Ledger series of action thrillers: Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory along with The Wolfman (NY Times bestseller based on the Universal Pictures film starring Benecio Del Toro, Emily Blunt and Sir Anthony Hopkins) as well as a series of Young Adult dystopian zombie thrillers: Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay (2011); and the forthcoming zombie thriller Dead Of Night. (2011)
Maberry has written a variety of projects for Marvel Comics involving Black Panther, DoomWar, Wolverine, Deadpool, Captain America, X-Men, Fantastic Four and the NY Times bestselling Marvel Zombies Return.
JOSHW: You've written many best selling and award winning novels. Are there plans for any of them to receive a movie adaptation?
JONATHAN MABERRY: My Joe Ledger series is in development for TV. That series, published by St. Martins Griffin in the States and Gollancz in the UK, deals with a cop who gets recruited into a secret rapid response group to help stop terrorists with the latest scientific weapons. In the first book, Patient Zero (2009), Joe and the DMS (Department of Military Sciences) square off against a group of terrorists with a plague that turns people into murderous zombies. The second book, The Dragon Factory, Joe and the DMS go up against two competing groups of geneticists. One side is creating exotic transgenic monsters and genetically enhanced mercenary armies; the other is using 21st century technology to continue the Nazi Master Race program begun by Josef Mengele.
The series was optioned by producer Michael DeLuca (Blade, Magnolia, Se7en) on behalf of SONY, and currently ABC has commissioned a pilot script by Javier Grillo-Maruach (Lost, Medium, Middlemen). Rumour control has it that we’ll know this week whether the show goes into production. It’s one of five shows that made ABC’s shortlist for Spring 2011.
We also have some film interest in my new series of Young Adult zombie thrillers, which will debut this October. The first book is Rot & Ruin, and it deals with a teenager growing up fourteen years after the zombie apocalypse. It’s been described as a ‘zombie novel with heart’, and really deals with what it means to be human, and to be alive.
JOSHW: Are there any of your novels in particular that you think would be well suited to a live action movie?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I think my first three novels, the Pine Deep Trilogy, would make a great TV series. The series, Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising deal with the small town of Pine Deep, which uses its reputation as ‘the most haunted town in America’ as the basis for its tourism. Unfortunately it really is the most haunted town in America, and that turns out to be a very bad thing for everyone. It has vampires, ghosts, zombies, werewolves…all sorts of unpleasant things.
And I’m writing a new book, a standalone zombie novel called Dead Of Night, which will be published in mid-2011, which deals with a new take on how the zombie plague starts. It has a couple of story elements that I think are the creepiest and most disturbing I’ve ever cooked up. But the whole novel was plotted out as if it was a movie, so it would transfer very well to film.
JOSHW: Was the transition from writing novels to comic books a difficult one?
JONATHAN MABERRY: There was a learning curve, sure. One of my novels landed on the desk of Axel Alonso, one of Marvel’s top editors and now a Vice President. He read it and then called me to ask if I was interested in writing for Marvel. Silly question. I grew up reading Marvel –and the first comic I ever bought was Fantastic Four #68. A long, long time ago.
The challenge was the length. I write thick, juicy novels that clock in upwards of 140,000 words. A comic book script is somewhere between three and five thousand words. The writer has to tell the artist what to show and rely very heavily on the visual storytelling component. Wordiness isn’t all that appealing to comic book readers. My first projects for Marvel were a Punisher Max 32-pager and an 8-page Wolverine short. Both of those were narrative-driven rather than dialogue-driven. That’s really lean writing, so it made me find a new level of my game. It was good training, though.
After that I began regular writer on Black Panther, which meant juggling a bunch of characters and plotlines, some of which were mine and some were unfinished storylines from the previous writer. You have to get up to speed pretty quickly for that, and I loved the process. While writing the first couple of issues of that I pitched DoomWar and Marvel Universe vs. the Punisher. I feel like I’m in my groove now.
JOSHW: With such a varied cast and with so much at stake in the Marvel Universe, how has it been to write a series like DoomWar?
JONATHAN MABERRY: DoomWar was very satisfying to write. I got to play with some of my favourite characters. I was always a devoted fan of the Fantastic Four, so I got to use them (and even got to write the line ‘It’s clobberin’ time!’). And I got to work with my favourite villain, Doctor Doom.
I always thought that Doom was more interesting that he’s sometimes been portrayed. As with my novels, I like a layered villain. Someone whose villainy has a purpose, an origin. I also like the idea of showing that Doom is more than a one-man show. It’s improbable that someone like him does what he does without many layers of support. So I gave him a foreman –the Broker (aka Walter Declun, formerly of Damage Control), and indicated that Doom has a network, factories, and so on.
DoomWar was always a high-concept, big picture story. It isn’t a single-hero book. It may have spun out of Black Panther, but this story doesn’t belong to that series any more than it belongs to the Fantastic Four, Deadpool or any other book. It was always a war story, with generals (Doom on one side, T’Challa and Reed on the others), field marshalls (Broker and Shuri), and troops (DoomBots and a ton of heroes).
I’m pleased with how it came out, and I’m delighted with Scot Eaton’s gorgeous artwork. It is the absolute perfect fit for the story. Scot is a great guy and has become one of my all time favourite comic artists. I’m also delighted with the enthusiastic reception the series has gotten. It’s brought me to a different level in the comic world, and I’m very grateful.
JOSHW: With only two issues left until its conclusion can you give us an idea what to expect?
JONATHAN MABERRY: Mmm…hard to say without spoilers. If you saw the previews they put up for issue #5 you know that War Machine makes an appearance. He’ll be in #5 and #6, as will Deadpool. There’s also a new team of elite Dora Milaje warriors called the Midnight Angels.
Some folks got jittery when they saw that Deadpool was on deck, I guess fearing that his wackiness would hijack the series…but that was never going to happen. He’s a soldier in the war. Useful, of course, and let’s face it, Deadpool is always Deadpool…but this isn’t his story. He’s part of the allied forces aligned against Doom.
Aside from that, I can’t tell you what happens in the last act, but I can guarantee that it will be talked about. The book won’t end the way a lot of people think it will. And I may get burned at the stake for how I end things, but I maintain that it is the best way to end this story. Besides, I always like stories that take risks. So…I’m taking a big one.
JOSHW: Black Panther and Doctor Doom obviously play a huge part in the series. What did you think of Doom's portrayal in the Fantastic Four movies and would you like to see a Black Panther solo film?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I think they missed an opportunity with Doom in the movies. They softened him and made him too much of an ordinary guy. Doom is not ordinary. He’s an exceptional intellect, a foreign head of state, and the kind of guy who just engage in jaunty banter. Had they gone with a more classic interpretation of Doom it would have given the movies a greater weight and solidity.
As far as a Black Panther solo film…that would be great, and it would probably be successful. But again, they would need to play it straight. Let the Panther be the Panther. Stick to the storyline from the books. There are plenty of great stories –Lee and Kirby, Christopher Priest, Reggie Hudlin, Dwayne McDuffie. Even mine, if they want to go with the new, female Panther. No need to reinvent the wheel for a film.
JOSHW: You also wrote the novelisation for The Wolfman. What kind of experience was it to adapt a script into a novel?
JONATHAN MABERRY: It was an interesting job. I had to work entirely from the script and only a handful of production stills. I didn’t see the movie until the book had been out for a week!
However Universal Pictures gave me a lot of elbow room. They encouraged me to make the book mine own and to ‘write a novel’ instead of merely adapting a script. So I did. I did some additional research and then sat down to write a gothic horror.
The whole process took seven weeks, which is also the shortest time it’s taken me to write a novel. And of course the book was shorter than my other novels by about sixty thousand words. I was delighted that it became a New York Times bestseller. That felt very, very nice.
JOSHW: What did you think of the movie and Joe Johnston being chosen to direct The First Avenger: Captain America?
JONATHAN MABERRY: It works for me. Joe has a strong connection to comics and a deep understanding of them. I believe he’ll bring a sober weight and dignity to the project, while at the same time allowing for an appropriate sense of fun. That’s as it should be because Captain America is the elder statesmen of Marvel heroes. He’s not a wise-cracking type. He’s the guy you want to be, and he’s the guy you want approval from. So…yeah, I think Joe Johnston will do a fine job.
JOSHW: Although Iron Man, Thor and Captain America will be teaming up in 2012 for The Avengers, are there any other comic book characters that you'd like to see receive their own movie?
JONATHAN MABERRY: Absolutely. Black Panther, of course; but there are others that would make great flicks if handled correctly. Now that CGI has caught up to superhero movies, I think Doctor Strange would be a natural. Namor would be fun, and I’d love to see him cameo in Captain America, during the early part of the movie where it’s still set in World War II. I’d love to see a Warlock film. He was always one of my favourites. I love the moody, psychologically complex philosopher-heroes (like Silver Surfer).
And I would sooooo love to see Tomb of Dracula as a TV series. Shot just the way it was done in the comics.
JOSHW: What can your fans expect to see from you after DoomWar and in the near future?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I have a bunch of projects cooking. First up is Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher, which is a four-issue mini event set a couple of years into a ‘possible’ future. A bio weapon was accidentally released and it caused a gradual mutation of all human life into savage cannibal predators. They’ve slaughtered each other for the most part, but there are tribes of them living in New York. They’re not supernatural and they’re not zombies. They are like very primitive and very savage tribesmen of about the same technology level as cavemen (but retaining their super powers, although they don’t always remember how to use them.)
The Punisher, for reasons explained in the first issue, is immune and he’s taken it upon himself to exterminate them all. It’s an impossible task, but he’s become even more murderous and driven. In some ways he’s happy because his whole life has been simplified: him against everything else. Then he finds out that there are some uninfected survivors. Things go downhill very fast. This is a very weird story. A post-apocalyptic existentialist action tale. With super heroes.
After that, I have an 11-page Black Panther short that will appear in an Heroic Age anthology; to be followed by a new four-issue series. And then a special project tied to one of the movies, but I can’t share any details about that yet. But it’s a big five-issue story that spans decades and includes a number of Marvel’s greatest heroes.
After that…? Well, we’re in discussions for other projects. As the old saying goes…Make Mine Marvel!
I would of course like to say a big thank you to Jonathan for taking the time to share his thoughts with us here at Comic Book Movie and to learn more about him and his work, visit his website by clicking HERE or by finding him on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace.
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