“Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin and Avatar Press Publisher William Christensen discussed their new horror series “Skin Trade” and Martin’s thoughts on the comic book industry in a lively panel Sunday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
“‘Skin Trade’ is a horror book, not a fantasy book. It is also a four-issue series,” Christensen said.
Martin explained that “Skin Trade” began as a novella, which he explained meant “almost a novel,” that appeared in the “Dark Visions” anthology originally published in 1989 and won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella that same year. The author said he was told he could write 30,000 words for original fiction and utilize it in any way he chose. While he could have written four stories with that word count, he chose to do just one and make it about werewolves.
The author also chose to not make his main character a typical werewolf, and defy expectations of the genre. “He’s an asthmatic, hypochondriac, and not a very formidable werewolf,” he said of his main character, adding that the other werewolves in the story are far more dangerous.
Martin based the midwest town that serves as the location for the story on Chicago. “I lived in Chicago for a number of years,” he said, saying it provided much of the flavor to the setting. “There are stockyards and bad neighborhoods in it.”
“I always thought there was great potential for this story,” Martin said. “It is actually being optioned right now. So you might see ‘Skin Trade’ eventually as a movie.”
As a younger reader, Martin was captivated by horror stories like those written by H.P. Lovecraft. “I was like holy shit! That is scary! There was no gore in the story but Lovecraft had a way of writing stories to scare you,” Martin said. “In my freshman year of college I discovered books by Arkham House that were printing Lovecraft stories.”
He joked about his friends in college getting excited about these books based on just the title, thinking it was a very different kind of book. “They found my books by Lovecraft and they jumped over themselves to get to it,” the author said with a laugh. “And I was like, ‘it’s not that kind of Lovecraft book!'”
The author said he oriignally discovered horror comics while in a barber shop, his first reads by now pioneering horror comics publisher EC Comics. “I was born in 1948 and when I first started reading comics in the ’50s, they were very tame. I missed EC, they had come and gone when I was around. There were not scary comics around,” he said, saying they usually involved talking animals and giant monsters. “There were giant monsters that had names and you never knew how they got those names. Fin Fang Foom was my favorite name.
“I found old EC comic books under a pile of magazines in the barber shop,” Martin continued, saying that he would later hunt down the books. “And my god that was strong stuff! Much stronger than ‘Tales to Astonish.'”
The conversation then turned to the history of conventions, with Martin noting the first science fiction was held in 1939, and that comic books did not broken away from the genre until the 1960s.”The first purely comic book convention was held in New York in 1964. It was in one room and was in Greenwich [Village],” he said, and the organizer of the event told Martin that he was the first person to buy a ticket to it. “I was the first comic book fan!” he laughed.
Martin said horror has changed over the years, moving well beyond just being about monsters. “I called them monster stories. When I was a little kid some of them were scary to me,” Martin said, saying that it takes more to scare people. “The new generation that grew up on Jason and Freddy Krueger might not find Lon Chaney’s werewolf to be scary, but to my generation they were.”
In terms of scripting for comic books, the author says it’s important to make sure all the details are there for the writer and artist adapting his work — in this case writer Daniel Abraham and artist Mike Wolfer — in much the same way it is for adapting his prose to live-action. “You learn if it’s not on the page it won’t be in the scene,” Martin said. “The same goes for comic books. If you don’t put it in the script it, won’t show up on the page.”
Christensen echoed this sentiment and talked about scripts legendary writer Alan Moore would turn in. “Alan Moore’s script for a 22 page book is over 80 pages long,” the publisher said, adding that he would at times write a page for each panel of the book. “He is very descriptive.”
“That’s probably why he is one of the greatest comic book storytellers,” Martin said in response.
One thing Martin has noticed about how comics have changed over time isthe way artists keep pushing the boundaries. “Comics have changed a lot. You look at them now and they have conservative layouts,” he said of older issues. “Now they break out from the pages.”
Still, the writer often find himself irritated with what he perceives to be uninspired storytelling at times. “It drives me nuts seeing artists too lazy to draw backgrounds. They just show two superheroes punching each other on a blank page,” Martin said. “They need to create worlds and not just characters.”
When discussing the unique elements of the various mediums his work now lives in, Martin said they all had advantages and disadvantages. “Different mediums have different strengths,” he said. “Television shows and movies don’t have access to interior monologue. I don’t have access to soundtracks [in prose]. Comics have a limited space and television shows have to be done in an hour.”
He said each medium relies on a fusion of everybody involved playing their parts. “I can write the best story in the world,” Martin explained. “If you have a bad director or make a bad casting choice it will be a poor production. Comics need the right artist.”
“Skin Trade” #1 is available, with issue #2 on sale August 28, 2013.