EXCLUSIVE: Dixon Adapts Abercrombie's "The First Law" Trilogy

Blind Ferret Entertainment is best known for their web publication "Gutters" which takes unhindered, satirical and often humorous jabs at the comic book industry, but now they're blazing new ground via their first licensed deal, adapting author Joe Abercrombie's "The First Law" trilogy of fantasy/adventure novels into comics.

The first novel in the series is "The Blade Itself," and Blind Ferret is utilizing a unique release strategy in both print and digital formats: three new pages a week can be read for free on FirstLawComic.com, completed issues will be available digitally via comiXology followed by printed collected editions of the series.

Handling the writing duties on the comic is veteran Chuck Dixon, who is currently adapting "Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World" for Dynamite Entertainment and continuing his legacy with "G.I. Joe: Special Missions" at IDW Publishing. Artist Andie Tong and colorist Pete Pantazis join Dixon on the project, bringing to life Abercrombie's dynamic characters and bloody combat sequences.

Dixon and Abercrombie spoke with CBR News about "The First Law: The Blade Itself," revealing details on the leading characters and the main villain, Abercrombie's mission in breaking the norms of the fantasy genre and Dixon's knack for writing adaptations. Plus, exclusive art!

CBR News: Chuck, what makes Logen Ninefingers, Glokta and Jezal dan Luthar -- the three main players of "First Law: The Blade Itself" -- strong individual characters?

Chuck Dixon: Logen is the classic tough guy with a past -- he's done things he's not proud of and made the world a worse place for it. He wants to become a better man and make up for some of what he's done. He's turned to wandering until he can figure that out, leaving the violence in his life as far behind as he can. But just when he thinks he's out, it pulls him back in...

Jezal is full of confidence and arrogance -- he's good, skilled, but what he wants is to be lazy. That arrogance of his sometimes gets in the way of his desire to kick back and do nothing, however. There's a scene in the book where he almost talks himself into a fight he knows he has no chance of winning. He doesn't even know why he's saying what he's saying.

Glokta just doesn't give a damn anymore. He's gone through so much in life, he pretty much isn't afraid of or really shocked by anything anymore. He can come to everything -- from political intrigue to torture -- with kind of wry amusement. He's got everyone figured, and he's irritable.

And what can you tell us about the book's leading ladies?

Dixon: Ferro Maljinn is an ex-slave bent on revenge (and Logen's love interest) but doesn't show up until later in the series. Collem West has a sister named Ardee (who's the love interest for Jezal), who shows up early, but has a more significant role as the story progresses.

What's the tone of "First Law" and who is the target audience?

Dixon: It's closer to adult in tone, but we're softening some of the edges for the adaptation. It's got a grounded mix of swords and sorcery, with some wicked humor to spackle it all together.

It's very violent and refreshingly free of even a hint of the fey or twee. That's all I need to know about it.

What can you reveal about the kingdoms and magical elements in the world of "First Law?"

Dixon: There's the Union -- a kingdom in the western European style composed of Angland, The Midderlands and Dagoska. To the north, there's a kingdom of barbarians, united under a ruthless king, that wants to take Angland. To the south is the Gurkhish Empire, who have a habit of attacking Dagoska. The Midderlands, seat of power for the Union, just wants any problems with the other countries to go away quietly.

As for magic, we've got your wizards and witches all right.

Who is the main villain our heroes will be crossing swords with?

Dixon: The main villain is Bethod, the power-hungry Northern king who wants to take Angland from the Union. Bethod used Logen to help get control of the North, and then there was a falling out. Now, whatever side Bethod is on, Logen's on the other. And since Bethod is making a play for Angland, Logen will stand against him. Bethod also makes the mistake of getting on the wrong side of Bayaz, the first of the Magi -- one of those wizards we were talking about.

Bethod is a tough old barbarian, but he's smart. He took over the North and brought peace; peace isn't what they want -- so he'll bring them war with an enemy they can agree on: the Union. If they win, his people are happy for a little bit longer, and he has more control over them. If they lose, any opposition is cut down and he can work on rallying them -- and he keeps control. It's almost win-win for him in this; like he's using the heroes as a resource to stay in power.

EXCLUSIVE: Art by Andie Tong & Pete Pantazis

On his blog, "First Law" writer and creator Joe Abercrombie said you have a "master's eye for adaptation." In the past, you've adapted the "The Hobbit" for comics and you're currently working on "Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time: Eye of the World" series with Dynamite -- as a writer, what do you believe are the most important elements in adapting prose to comics?

Dixon: What can I say? I have one talent; the mutant ability to break stories down into a series of static images.

First I'd like to say that Joe makes my job so easy. So much of fantasy fiction is internalized; the stream of consciousness of the characters. Either that or simple pageantry interspersed with dialogue sequences. Joe takes an action approach to his stories. They really rip along at a steady pace and we learn about the characters through what they do rather than what they say or what they're thinking.

Robert Jordan is more problematic for me. There are few action set pieces and so much internal dialogue as well as long exchanges. While I can adapt Joe's story as it is written, I often had to shift events around in the "Wheel of Time" stories to provide action each issue and create natural breaks from issue to issue. Jordan was okay with my changes and understood the demands of comics are different than those for novels.

"The Hobbit" adaptation was painful as it required a lot of truncating. The length we had to work with really forced me to make deep cuts to the story. I had to excise Beorn entirely and he's my favorite Tolkien character.

How closely have you worked with Abercrombie on "The Blade Itself?" What's that relationship like?

Dixon: We work through an editor. I find adaptation work to be like doing surgery. If I were a surgeon I wouldn't want to operate on anyone I knew personally. There would be second guessing and tears. So, I do what I do and Joe corrects me where I go wrong.

Joe, "First Law" is referred to as an amalgam of adventure, magic and mystery themes -- what, if anything, have you pulled from pre-existing lore of these genres to make "First Law" its own?

Joe Abercrombie: I always wanted to write something fast paced and exciting, but where the action had some real punch -- where the violence was visceral and explosive, leaving people with consequences to deal with, both physical and emotional.

You could say Logen is something of an Indiana Jones style character with a serious dark side, always lurching from one disaster to another, trying to escape his bloody past but never quite managing it. Epic fantasy has tended to serve up a lot of action, but I think as a genre it's sometimes been guilty of falling into a rut, becoming predictable, always delivering the same kinds of characters, situations and moral simplicity that we expect. I've always been a big fan of mysteries, twists and surprises, and I wanted to incorporate some of that into "The First Law" -- keep the reader guessing and deliver some twists on the classic characters they've come to expect. Inquisitor Glokta used to be a man of action, but after being captured, tortured and left crippled, he finds the only job he can get is as a torturer himself. Twisted and self-hating, he looks for answers in a world of corruption and treachery, but finds his masters are more interested in their own purposes than in the truth.

Magic is a staple of fantasy fiction, of course, but my own taste is for a light hand on the magic and the fantastical races. I find it's most effective if the magic seems as strange, unknowable and horrifying to the characters as it does to the reader. When it appears, magic should be explosive.

In reading reviews of the "First Law" novels, the brutal fight scenes and dark humor found throughout the trilogy are lauded. What's your process like in working on combat sequences with the art team of Andie Tong and Peter Pantazis?

Dixon: I choreograph the scenes as much as I can; blocking the action out using the original text. But Andie and Peter are free to bring their take to it as well. It's a highly collaborative medium.

Have you managed to work the dark humor element into the comics?

Dixon: I believe so. I've tried to use as much of Joe's phrasing as possible. For me, his choice of words puts the humor aspects across and I try not to stray from his written word as much as I can.

A reviewer of the novels referred to "First Law" as if "Quentin Tarantino wrote a Sword & Sorcery novel." Can you speak to this analogy?

Dixon: I'm not sure that's accurate. It's kind of a sub-literate's view of the series. Joe doesn't cobble together elements from other sources. This stuff is entirely original. It's also not a "style over substance" kind of deal either. There's careful attention to plotting and characterization in the novels. While I'm a Tarantino fan, these are not elements commonly present in his work. I suppose the reviewer felt that there's a visceral element common to both.

The model for releasing "The Blade Itself" comic is 3 pages a week for free on FirstLawComic.com, then completed full issues are available for purchase on comiXology for $0.99, followed by printed graphic novel collections of multiple issues. You've been working in comics for decades -- what's your opinion of this strategy?

Dixon: I'm just not sure what the future of digital comics will be. No one is. But the web is sure a great way to preview the work globally and get in front of eyes that may never have seen it before. The audience appears to be growing for digital. Proof of that is a decent royalty check I got recently that was all based on digital sales.

"The First Law: The Blade Itself" #1 is available now from comiXology.

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Tags: chuck dixon, andie tong, blind ferret entertainment, the first law, the blade itself, pete pantazis

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