To draw a comparison between "Degrassi: The Next Generation," Canada's edgy high school drama, and Tom Stoppard's classic play "Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead" may seem to absurd to most, but not to the creators of "Degrassi: Extra Credit," a line of original fiction based on the fan-favorite series.
Editor of Pocket Books, Jennifer Heddle, introduced writer J. Torres and artist Ramon Perez. Heddle explained that after Madison Press published "Degrassi Generations: The Official 411" (a guide to all 25 years of the long-running franchise), they approached Pocket Books about doing a series of manga-style graphic novels.
Heddle asked the creative team to explain how they became involved with the project. The Art Director from Madison Press was a fan of Torres' work, and asked if he was a fan of "Degrassi." It so happened that he was. "I also went to the same gym as Miriam McDonald" (who plays Emma Nelson on the show). Perez was brought in at Torres' suggestion. And both contributors did their research. They were provided with DVD sets of the first four seasons. "It's a great show," Perez said. "It's fun to put my stamp on it."
The comic is supplementary to the TV series. It weaves in and out of episodes, elaborating on situations that are mentioned in episodes but occur off screen. Thus drawing the parallel to Stoppard's play, which tells the story of "Hamlet" from the point of view of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Two issues are slated for release in November of this year, a third in April '07, and a fourth in May '07. Chronologically, the stories in the first run of issues take place between seasons five and six of the series.
Torres explained that the writing process began with him pitching an idea to the producers of the show, who then have to give it their stamp of approval before he can go ahead and write the script. "There's a really nice back and forth," Torres said.
And writer and artist both are nothing if not attentive to detail when it comes to continuity. Some stories in the comic pick up the very moment a scene from the series leaves off, and the creative team endeavors to keep everything contiguous, down to the names of the movies on a theater marquee. "We know we'd hear it from you guys if we didn't," Torres said. "We've been warned."
Heddle asked how the creators approached the challenge of portraying established characters. Torres said, "The characters are so well developed, it makes it easier for us." And the highest compliment they've received is hearing from Executive Producer Linda Schuyler that the characters look and sound like the kids on the show.
As to how artist Perez approached the book, he explained that rather than try for photo-realism, he tried to capture "the essence of the characters. Immersing myself in the show helped a lot. Just seeing photos doesn't really help. If I could actually meet them…" Torres cut his collaborator off with a laugh. "I use that excuse, too."
Heddle asked of the comic's creative team, "Do you worry that the subject matter is too mature for young readers?" The book, according to the writer, will probably get a teen rating for exactly that reason.
At the end of "Degrassi"'s fifth season, many of the show's beloved characters graduated from the titular high school. And though Torres was sworn to secrecy, he did say that there was "really cool stuff in season six" for the fans of the recent graduates.
One fan asked if there was any chance of Kevin Smith appearing in the graphic novels. Smith, a huge fan of the series, played himself in three season four episodes. "I am trying to get the okay to use Kevin Smith," Torres confirmed. Smith was also slated to pen a "Degrassi" movie, but that project has been delayed indefinitely.
Torres also encouraged fans to check out the "Degrassi" webisodes on www.the-n.com, which he claims hint at which characters will be returning in the upcoming season.