Dirk Gently is poised for quite a comeback. The Holistic Detective created by “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” creative genius Douglas Adams not only has a new TV series in the works from IDW Entertainment and “Chronicle” screenwriter Max Landis, but Gently also has a comic series on the way from IDW Publishing. Writer Chris Ryall, who also serves as IDW’s Chief Creative Officer and Editor-in-Chief, continues Gently’s adventures alongside artist Tony Akins (“Wonder Woman,” “Fables”) in May’s “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” #1.
Adams, who passed away in 2001, first introduced Dirk to the world in the 1987 novel “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” which was followed by “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” in 1988. Gently — also known by his real name Svlad Cjelli — focused on solving crimes by focusing on “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.”
Last fall, IDW Entertainment announced a partnership with Ideate Media and Circle of Confusion to make a new series set here in the States. Ideate Media’s Head of Production and Development Arvind Ethan David was a key part of those negotiations. While a student at Oxford, David wrote a stage adaptation of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” that Adams liked. This started a friendship that would later help David finalize the deal with Adams’ estate, thus bringing Dirk to television and comics. CBR News spoke with Ryall and David about Dirk Gently’s upcoming return.
CBR News: What was it about Dirk Gently that captured your imagination and made IDW think the character would translate well into comics?
Chris Ryall: Well, in Dirk’s first novel alone, there’s a story set in the universe’s distant past, an electric monk, a mysterious murder, time travel, an alien-ghost, humor, wit, social commentary and unconventional detective work…and that’s before the second novel threw in things like Norse gods on top of all that. The question to me is, why the hell did it take so long for Dirk to enter the world of comics? He and his world seem readymade for our form of four-color madness.
Arvind Ethan David: What he said. Also, and not for nothing, I think if Douglas had been American instead of British, he would have written comics. Instead he wrote “Hitchhiker’s Guide” first as a radio series, and the idea of “Dirk Gently” appeared first in his scripts for “Doctor Who.”
Douglas Adams has a very specific style. Was it difficult getting your voice to sound like his when writing the first few issues?
Ryall: I think the day I presume to say that I got my voice to echo Douglas’ is the day I need to get a beatdown from an angry thunder god. But I am trying my damnedest to do something that will deliver on peoples’ expectations. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this same level of pressure on any other comic I’ve written, and every page of the scripts so far is going through more rewrites than I’ve ever done, up to and after the point where the pages are lettered. So I think I can hear Douglas/Dirk’s voice in my head, but readers will have to decide whether that voice makes it into the finished product. I will say, being inside Dirk’s head is feeling more and more comfortable a place for me with every word I write, so that’s a good sign.
Adams’ voice actually troubles me less than his cleverness, however. The wit, the smarts, the weaving of details into a storyline where everything coalesces in a way that would make “Seinfeld” envious is something that Adams did better than pretty much anyone I’ve ever read. So the plotting is where I’ve been driving myself crazy more than the characters’ voices.
David: When I was trying to figure out who could possibly write this comic, I read Chris’ “Groom Lake” and I thought, “He gets it.” It’s less about voice — Dirk kind of has his own voice, and his own way into every story — and as Chris says, about a density of ideas. And there I think Chris has really nailed the essence of Douglas’ writing, where you bring huge ideas and small details from wildly different realms of knowledge and smash them together into an unexpected metaphor, joke or pun. Douglas would have approved of “The Unexpectedness of All Kings” and “Schrodinger’s Copycats” gags that feel like a simple play on words, but have in fact got layers of story and ideas folded into them.
The new series finds Dirk transplanted from England to San Diego. How does he like the move and how does this change in location lead into these new adventures?
Ryall: The TV series in development transplants Dirk to San Diego, so this wasn’t just me trying to transplant a veddy British character into my backyard settings here, but it’s a fun thing to do, to involve Dirk in adventures that involve real settings here. It’s also nice to be able to go take reference pictures for the artist and not just rely on a Google Image Search.
San Diego is certainly different than the England Dirk knows, but at the same time, I didn’t want to do the usual “fish out of water” thing that is often done when transplanting characters to new locations. So it’s brighter, sunnier and filled with more laid-back happy folk than Dirk might be used to — and we play off some of the more ridiculous local flavor over the course of the series. And as we’ll learn, Dirk just might’ve had prior experiences in America. And might’ve had a very good reason for leaving England and coming here. Perhaps it wasn’t even totally of his choosing, but that’s not a story I want to tell right away.
We do see the natural history museum, the Hotel del Coronado, Balboa Park and other San Diego landmarks in the first storyline — not to mention one of those pedal-driven party shuttles I only see in beer-drinking beach towns — and it’s hard not to think that Dirk’ll eventually show up near IDW’s offices at some point. But the locations will only ever serve the storyline, not drive it.
David: In “The Salmon of Doubt” — the unfinished Dirk novel that Douglas was writing when he died — Dirk does in fact leave London for California, so in a way the comics are just completing the journey he was already on.
Speaking of the new adventures, what can you tell us about this first story, “Schrodinger’s Copycat”?
Ryall: I can tell you that it involves a couple of reincarnated ancient Egyptians, a couple copycat serial killers, a soul-draining phone app, murder most foul, a detective-themed coffee house, a new regular cast of characters and at least two familiar faces beyond Dirk’s.
David: Also that it kicks arse. See what I did there? British.
For the uninitiated, what does it mean to be a holistic detective?
Ryall: Well, to Dirk, it means that he sees the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. In most cases, this involves running up large expense accounts and then claiming that every item was actually a vital part of the investigation. Dirk often claims that he cannot be considered to have ripped anybody off because none of his clients have ever paid him. But there’s more to it than that — he sees connections that may or may not actually exist, follows hunches rather than clues and certainly doesn’t solve crimes in a manner of any other detective ever. And he’s very good at what he does.
David: As Dirk might say, “Every idiot goes on about how the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in the Sahara can cause a Tsunami in new south wales — but only I have the presence of mind to kill the damn butterfly!”
You mentioned the new supporting cast of characters that Dirk will meet in the States. Can you tell us anything about them at this point? Also, do they have any connections to the TV series?
Ryall: The characters being created for the comic are just being created for the comic right now. If it ever happens that they’re suitable for the TV show and find their way into an episode, even better, but right now, Dirk is the only common factor between the two.
In the comic, Dirk sets up residence in a detective-themed coffee house run by Susan Murdico and Tonya Fong, one of whom Dirk enlists to be his assistant — well, associate, as she demands. The coffee shop does dismal business but a couple regulars who factor into the story hang out there — Crowther, a homeless man who comes in mostly to use the facilities, and Hamisch, a teenage kid who is wise beyond his years in very odd ways. And, as happens with Dirk, [they] all get swept up into the maelstrom that is his existence.
Tony Akins has done everything from superhero to fantasy work in the past. Did that depth of experience make him an obvious choice for this book?
Ryall: Tony is such a good fit here — his art is expressive with just enough cartooniness to fit the ridiculous circumstances going on in the comic. Tony’s a guy whose work I’ve admired for some time and who I’m really happy to be working with here.
David: What we looked for in an artist was a storyteller first and Tony is definitely that. He makes pretty pictures, but his pictures drive the narrative along.
IDW making these comics was part of a larger deal involving the TV series. Was it a difficult process negotiating for the rights to do these comics?
Ryall: Heh, I guess it’s good that we’ve got Arvind David, who is the steward of Douglas Adams’ property, participating in this interview, so we can get the perspective from both sides. In the case of Dirk, it was something a bit different from the usual licensing process, in that Arvind’s Ideate Media and our IDW Entertainment are partnered up to bring Dirk to TV, so the comics are another component of that deal. Which means for me, I entered into the comics portion after the larger media deal had been struck between Arvind and Ted Adams, our CEO.
But since beginning the comics process with Arvind, it’s been nothing but a gratifying partnership. Arvind knows and “gets” Dirk better than anyone but Douglas, so his help in the comic development has been a huge boon for me.
David: Thanks Chris. If I am an expert on Dirk it’s only because I’ve lived with him since I was 16. I first met Douglas Adams when I was a teenager — I was at school and had adapted “Dirk Gently” as a stage play, and the next thing I knew, there he was, in the audience. He liked it, and we had dinner, and over the next decade, he became a pivotal figure in my life and career, as much as he already was in my intellectual and literary imagination.
The full version of that story is for another time, but to answer your question about the rights, it was either the longest rights negotiation in history — 19 years — or the shortest, because the rights finally came available, after being tied up in endless options with other companies. Douglas’ estate, in the person of the redoubtable Ed Victor, said to me, “Well, you’ve always wanted these. Yours now.”
Speaking of the TV show, is there much back and forth between your offices and Max Landis’ office?
Ryall: I’ve chatted with Max a couple times, and read his series bible — which, holy shit, is one amazing piece of writing, just captivating and hilarious — and his pilot script. But the comic is its own thing, the TV show will be its own thing. And yet, they’ll of course be fundamentally inter-connected in ways both obvious and more subtle, too.
David: First, the idea that Max Landis has an “office” is as cognitively incongruous as a sperm whale flying doing ballet. That aside, what we’ve tried to do is to have a consistency in the Dirk-verse, without being slavish. By my being an editor on the comic book, an executive producer on the TV show, as well as the writer of the play, I try and bring a tonal consistency to proceedings and make sure that none of the versions flat-out contradict each other — though I’m sure there will be those find inconsistencies down the line. Though of course, when you are dealing with a Douglas Adams property, there is nothing more consistent than inconsistencies.
“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” #1 from Chris Ryall, Tony Akins and IDW Publishing debuts in May.