Khaled Hosseini's "Kite Runner" Comes to Comics

When his first novel "The Kite Runner" was published in 2003, Afghan-born Khaled Hosseini was a doctor living in California. The book about two boys growing up in Afghanistan in the 1970s quickly became an international bestseller. Since that time, Hosseini has published another novel, "A Thousand Splendid Suns," has been serving as a Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and founded the Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.

The book has been translated into dozens of languages and turned into a feature film, a play and now a graphic novel illustrated by Fabio Celoni and Mirka Andolfo and published by Penguin's Riverhead Books. To mark the occasion, Mr. Hosseini spoke with CBR News about his own history with comics, how the graphic novel is an attempt to make the story available for a new audience and what he has planned for the future.

CBR News: What is your experience with comics? Were you a reader of them as a child?

Khaled Hosseini: Yes, I read comics when I was a boy. I began with Marvel and DC, read a lot of Batman, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Iron Man, etc. Later on, I read most of Alan Moore's work, "Watchmen," "From Hell," his take on "Swamp Thing." I read Frank Miller, especially his iconic take on the Dark Knight and also his terrific stint with Daredevil. I liked also Garth Ennis' "Preacher" series. I read Art Spiegelman's "Maus," and Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis" books, both of which are among my favorite novels, graphic or not.

Was it your idea to turn the story into a comic, or was the idea presented to you?

I was approached to do it by my Italian publisher, Piemme. It was their idea, but it really caught my fancy as I have been a fan of comic books since childhood. I gave my go ahead and the search began for a set of artists to bring the story to visual life

Did you have any input over how the characters or settings were drawn?

I chose to let Fabio [Celoni] take the lead. Fabio and I did exchange an e-mail or two, but it was my intention to step out of the way and let his artistic instincts take over. He did send me pages as he progressed, both in black and white and some color samples as well. It was really exciting to see the sketches and to see the story shaping up visually.

The comic feels as if the story is being told in such a way to make it for a slightly younger audience. Was that the intension and what age is the target audience for the comic?

The graphic novel is intended for a wide spectrum of readers. This includes readers of the novel who may be curious to see the story depicted in a visual, artistic form. It includes younger readers who may not have read the novel but may pick up the graphic novel. Of course, it is also intended for fans of graphic novels, whether they have read the original novel or not. My hope is that this graphic novel, and Fabio and Mirka's terrific artwork enhances the story for the readers and lends an additional dimension to the reading experience to readers both familiar and not with the original novel.

How well do you think it succeeds in telling the story for a younger audience?

The key of any adaptation, be it screen, stage or graphic novel, is to preserve the core emotional experience of the original story, the element which made the original story appealing to readers in the first place. I think this graphic novel does accomplish that, and does it well for a younger audience. It should be noted that there is still some violence and some mature themes, those are integral to the story (the stoning by the Taliban and the central rape scene). But they are rendered more or less impressionistically and some of the rougher language has also been toned down.

There's been a film version and now a comic version of your novel, but do you feel that either adaptation has captured the thrill and the tension of a kite battle?

Both have, in their own ways. The kite scenes made for beautiful visual interpretation in the film, with use of CGI. In the graphic novel, Fabio's work lends  a real kinetic, exciting feel to the kite fighting scenes. But of course, there is nothing quite like the real thing!

After writing this story in private for so long, is it a little surreal to see the book being turned into a comic, a film and a play, seeing other people interpret your story and characters?

It is always odd to see another person's interpretation of your thoughts, ideas and characters. For me there is always an element of curiosity, which existed in the film as well. I am curious as to what form the images that I tried to convey through words have taken in a reader's mind. If that reader is an artist and can then translate his or her thoughts into drawings -- or film or music or stage performance for that matter -- then I am interested. It gives you a chance to see your own creation from a different angle.

Are you working on another book now?

Yes, I am. But probably the less said the better at this point in time.

Fair enough. In closing, I was wondering if you wanted to just talk a little about the Khaled Hosseini Foundation and the work that the foundation is involved in.

The aim of my foundation has been to help the most vulnerable groups in Afghanistan, so the focus has been on women, children, and homeless refugees, most of whom are in fact women and children. So far, the bulk of our efforts has focused on helping build permanent shelters for returning refugees who are homeless, living out in the open or in makeshift homes. This is an area of urgent need as Afghanistan's natural elements are quite harsh, with very hot summers and freezing winters. We also support and fund projects that bring jobs, healthcare and education to women and children. In addition, we award  scholarships to women pursuing higher education in Afghanistan.

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