Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently can’t be stopped these days. The Holistic Detective who believes all things are connected starred in first comic book miniseries from IDW Publishing last year, and debuted his second, “A Spoon Too Short,” this week. Not content with prose novels and comic books, BBC America recently gave the green light to an eight-episode television series starring the enduring character that will be a co-production with Ideate Media and IDW Entertainment.
Though still in early stages, executive producers Max Landis and Arvind Ethan David have risen to the occasion of expanding on the character Adams created in 1987’s “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” revisited in 1988’s “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” and again in the abandoned “The Salmon of Doubt.” The character was previously adapted in live-action by BBC Four and starred Stephen Mangan in the title role, though only a four-episode first season was produced.
Landis has enjoyed a meteoric rise in Hollywood after breaking out with his screenplay for the super-powered found footage film “Chronicle” and saw both “American Ultra” and “Victor Frankenstein” released in 2015, and is currently writing “Superman: American Alien,” an acclaimed reimagining of the Man of Steel for DC Comics. David wrote a theatrical play starring Dirk that led to a friendship with Adams, and now finds himself shepherding both the upcoming TV series and the current IDW comic illustrated by artist Ilias Kyriazis.
Landis and David spoke with CBR News about bringing Dirk to life away from the page, putting the character in a new setting, his unwilling best friend and the tall task of bringing one of Adams’ characters to life.
CBR News: In what ways does the idea of a Holistic Detective who focuses on “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things” resonate with today’s audience in a way it may not have in the past?
Arvind Ethan David:First, the world just is more interconnected than it ever has been. Douglas was writing before the birth of the commercial internet (the first Dirk Gently book came out in 1987), but Douglas had been on email since 1982 (he was a real early adopter) — he thought deeply and profoundly about how interconnectivity changes everything. Dirk is sort of a one man hyperlink. He sees, without quite realizing why, that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in the Scotland is linked to a Tsunami in Nova Scotia. I think in today’s world, we are seeing how true that is both in wonderful ways (Facebook, crowd sourcing, flash-mobs, social-activism) and in horrible ones (terrorism, pandemics).
Would you say it’s more or less difficult to get into an existing character like this given the relatively small sample size of material from the original author?
David: When the material is so good, and the character and the style so clear and strong, you don’t need dozens of volumes to get it. I mean, Shakespeare only wrote one play of Hamlet, but the young prince has stayed with us a while. In another way it’s freeing — what Douglas leaves us is not tons of plot, but an astonishing character and a tone — and we can take Dirk and his weird ways into new adventures.
Max Landis: You simply can’t come at Adams’ material directly. It feels like trying to describe a color, it’s one of those warped mirror situations where 90% of the content comes from the tone, the experience of being spoken to the way Adams’ speaks to you. My goal is not, and has never been, to do a scene by scene adaptation. Instead, I mimic the tone, and when you are chasing a tone, everything becomes way more fun, and easy. If that makes sense, it’s easy, because he’s left so many blank spaces in his narrative to play with, but with such a wonderful guiding mentality firmly established.
What went into the idea of bringing Dirk to San Diego? How does this play into or against his new surroundings?
Landis: Dirk is a character who is never out of his element, but, by virtue of that, is always out of his element. I wanted him to seem even more “alien” to his surroundings, both to the people he meets and in his own estimation of his place in the world. I play a lot with Dirk’s confidence, both in his detective abilities and even basic social functionality, so I wanted to put a lean on him. Really throw him into a new space.
What kind of new characters does Dirk find himself interacting with both as a transplant to this town and as a Holistic Detective?
Landis: A cult with access to an electromagnetic soul swapping machine, a girl with a neurological disease that causes agonizing sensory delusions, a possessed dog, a Holistic Assassin, an anarchic wolf pack of psychic vampires and Todd. Todd is Dirk’s new best friend, whether Todd likes it or not. Think of Holmes and Watson… if Watson desperately didn’t want to be there and was better at almost everything than Holmes.
IDW also has the second comic book series in the works. When I talked to Chris Ryall, IDW’s Editor-in-Chief about that, he said he had the opportunity to check out your series bible and used that to guide him. What’s it like for you to be an executive producer of the book, especially now that you’re more immersed in that world?
Landis: For me, the comics are their own, specific thing. I sort of internally think of them as stories Dirk would tell you about things he did, with a lot of the details being played fast and loose.
Arvind, last time we talked you explained your amazing history with Douglas Adams in regards to your stage play of Dirk. How does it feel to continue bringing this character to the masses both on TV and in comics?
David: Literally, like a teenage dream come true. As we are getting deep into the process of writing the comic book, the euphoria is being replaced by the day to day satisfaction of working hard on a thing you love. I’ve been making movies and plays for almost my whole life and I’ve worked on a lot of stuff I’m proud of, but there is something different about this one — every word, every decision matters. I’m conscious of Douglas’ impossibly high standards, and that forces me to lift my own. To be doing it with Max, who, of course, has his own impossibly high standards, makes it even more fun.
Stay tuned to CBR for more on “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.” An all-new IDW miniseries, “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: A Spoon Too Short,” from writer Arvind Ethan David and artist Ilias Kyriazis, began this week. Read a preview of #1 right now.