After adapting Peter S. Beagle’s acclaimed fantasy novel “The Last Unicorn” to comics for IDW Publishing in 2010, writer Peter B. Gillis is back with another IDW Beagle adaptation, “A Fine & Private Place,” with art by Eduardo Francisco. While “Unicorn” is a well-known and beloved classic that was made into a popular movie, “Place” isn’t as widely read, and it’s set in a different genre. “It’s a ghost story not a fantasy, so there are no monsters or magic bolts,” Gillis told CBR News, “but what made ‘The Last Unicorn’ stand out — the beautifully imagined characters, the sense of wonder coupled to bemused wryness and the terrific language — [those] are all there.”
“Place” is about a man who lives in a Bronx cemetery and is able to talk to the spirits of the people who are buried there (as well as to his companion, a raven). “We’re doing the adaptation as a period piece of the Bronx in 1958,” Gillis said, “which was about when the book was written. It wasn’t a period piece then, but it is now, and we’ve drowned Eduardo in reference. But it’s a supernatural story that hinges less on ectoplasmic bursts, decayed mansions and flying furniture than on the complex reactions of the living and the dead. The comic book medium allows us to get to the heart of the story, and it allows us to do the supernatural with the ease and elegance this story needs.”
Other than specifying the time period, Gillis has done his best to preserve Beagle’s story. “I try to avoid inventing incidents,” he said. “Changing the language is unavoidable, so I try to include what I consider to be really good lines and try to do important events in the original language. Taking out stuff is also unavoidable, and the toughest decisions to make.”
Beagle has been there along the way to guide the process of “Place’s” sequential adaptation. “Having the original author looking over your shoulder adds something, too,” Gillis said. “Mainly, I plunged my merry way until I went too far and he objected — which wasn’t often.”
Gillis’ history with Beagle’s work goes back much further than his “Unicorn” adaptation — he first encountered “Place” when it was released in paperback in 1969. “In the feverish quest to have follow-ups to ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ Ballantine put out a lot of amazing stuff by E.R. Eddison, Mervyn Peake, Lord Dunsany — what became their Ballantine Adult Fantasy line. I lapped them all up, but Mr. Beagle’s work stood out even in that company,” Gillis said. “The thing I most like is Peter’s writing. It’s so damn good. I also like the fact that he deals with ensembles — there are four or five characters of equal weight, and the story is really about all of them — but in the end, it’s the writing.”
Complementing the writing of “Place” is art from Francisco. “When I first saw Eduardo’s stuff, I instantly knew he had the drawing chops for the job — but I wondered if he’d be bored without dinosaurs or fighter jets,” Gillis said. “When I saw his stuff for the story, though, all my doubts were laid to rest. He’s pouring himself into the world, both living and dead, of 1958, and his people are all I could wish for.”
And after two Beagle adaptations for IDW, Gillis is eager to tackle more. “Anytime, anywhere, anyhow,” he said. “[Beagle] did sort of vanish for ages after those first couple of books — I had to wait until 1986 for his next fantasy novel, ‘The Folk of the Air’ — but there’s been some really great stuff since then. And my experience with IDW has been nothing but positive, so all they have to do is ask.”
“A Fine & Private Place” #1 is on sale in September from IDW.