CBR News participated this afternoon in a press conference held by Marvel Comics to discuss Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born” #1, released next month. Sitting at the head of the audio table was Robin Furth, chief story architect of the hotly anticipated comic adaptation and long time associate of Stephen King. Also in attendance were Marvel editors Ralph Macchio, Nicole Boos, John Barber, as well as Jim McCann, Marvel’s Assistant Manager of Sales Communication.
Co-writer Robin Furth is acknowledged as the world’s foremost expert on all that is “Dark Tower,” having authored “Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: A Complete Concordance,” a massive encyclopedia of Stephen King’s opus, created originally for King’s personal use. Readers both new as well as familiar with King’s work may be surprised to learn that he had been developing ‘The Dark Tower” saga for thirty years, having written his first story featuring lead character Roland Deschain while still an undergraduate at the University of Maine. Besides the seven full-length novels in the “Dark Tower” series, the content has spilled out over the years into other works by the author. As such, there’s quite a lot of material to be catalogued, necessitating Robin Furth’s involvement as archivist and creator of the “Complete Concordance.”
“I’ve lived in Mid-World so long now, I feel as though I actually do live there sometimes,” Furth joked.
Furth and Marvel are very conscious of the task of introducing new readers to the (Mid-)world of “Dark Tower,” a direction initiated by Stephen King himself. According to Furth, King envisioned the first comics series as a kind of prequel, focusing largely on the teenage Roland Deschain and his journey to become the mythical Gunslinger. As such, Marvel’s first mini-series is an adaptation of King’s “Wizard and Glass” novel, which detailed Roland’s early life with his companions Cuthbert Allgood and Alain Johns. The story also features Roland’s father Steven Deschain, the Gunslinger king, as well as the villainous Marten Broadcloak, a powerful wizard who’s appeared many times across much of King’s work.
“Wizard And Glass” itself is a novel around 700 pages in length, making the plotting of the comic a challenge for Furth. “I tried to focus it so that the essence of the book came through,” she explained. “With transforming a book like this, you know that you’re going to have a lot of hardcore ‘Dark Tower’ fans, but you’re also going to have a lot of new readers who won’t have the background, so we were all really thinking about that.”
Huge reverence was paid to the story of “Dark Tower” during the comics adaptation. The main plot of the novels remains intact, with just some characters and subplots being left out. One notable omission is Aunt Cordelia, the aunt of Susan Delgado, who is Roland’s love interest. Also trimmed down in the comics version of “Dark Tower” are the number of Horsemen’s Association members and other assorted baddies. The comics series will along the way weave in much of the mythology of Mid-world with which Furth has become so intimately familiar, creating for all intents and purposes a chronological retelling of the “Dark Tower” saga in comics forum.
Furth found the comics creative process exhilarating, especially the collaborative aspects. “With the first issue, we were all trying to find our feet in how to work together. What’s happening now is if Jae thinks something should be changed slightly to make it work better visually, he can write to me, or Ralph, or John and makes comments about it, and we can have a dialogue about it. And so can Peter, which is really great. It becomes this big, collaborative thing. I think that makes it stronger.”
The writer added, “Learning how to focus [the story] on the action, so when things went to Jae, he had a story he could actually draw. That was pretty exciting to learn and actually made me a better writer.”
Visually, “Dark Tower” is also milestone, as it is the first time Jae Lee has put out an uninked comic, which as Lee fans know is quite remarkable considering the artist’s traditionally high-contrast, ink-heavy work. In the early stages of development, Marvel asked Jae Lee to draw four pages based on the opening of the first Gunslinger book. The original plan was for Lee’s colorist Richard Isanov – whom Barber was quick to point out is more accurately described as a painter – to paint the penciled pages, after which Lee would ink them, giving King two different styles of art to consider.
“We got those first pages and they were just extraordinary,” editor John Barber gushed. “It was like nothing we’d seen before. We knew there was no reason to have a version 2.”
Furth added her own stamp of approval to Lee’s striking artwork, and detailed a visit to England during which she and King inspected some of the finished pages. King reportedly remarked, “It’s like seeing the stories that you’ve had in your mind all these years step onto a page.”
“[Stephen King’s] really, really pleased with it,” said Furth. “You can’t get higher praise than that!”
Indeed, everyone involved in the production of this series indicated their profound satisfaction with the finished results, despite an uncharacteristically lengthy production process. “It’s pretty much been a full time job,” John Barber confessed. “Unfortunately, there are thirty-four other books we’re working on. But it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been great work with everybody. It was really exciting to see the book go out the door and go to the printer and see the first runs of it back from the printer. It looks beautiful.”
While the project was announced last year and pushed back due to what McCann assures us was out of Marvel’s control, the creative team never stopped work on the comic. At present, Jae Lee is drawing issue #7, the last of this mini-series, while Robin Furth has completed her plots for the entire second mini-series and just handed in the third. Succeeding story arcs will see where Roland and his friends go, what adventures they have, and will lead to what longtime “Dark Tower” surely wish to see , the last stand of the Gunslingers on Jericho Hill. The first issue of “Dark Tower” features a backup prose story called “The Sacred Geography of Mid-World.” As the keeper of all knowledge and folklore of Mid-World, Furth was uniquely suited to write this primer for new readers as well as old fans that may have become slightly lost over the series’ lengthy and dense run. Along similar lines, Marvel has plans to release in April a guidebook to the Dark Tower series.
To celebrate the release of “Dark Tower” #1, Marvel is working with one-hundred and fifty US retailers to bring to comics fans the first ever midnight opening for comic book sales, a practice usually seen with eagerly anticipated event films. More information on the midnight openings can be found on Marvel’s Dark Tower site.
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