Lee and Richards Raise Jane Austen's Undead

When "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" was released last year by Random House's Quirk Cassics label, the mash-up novel was a surprise bestseller, but quickly became a genuine sensation, inspiring numerous other horror inspired reworkings of classic tales. While Seth Grahame-Smith taking large chunks of Jane Austen's classic novel and combining the Regency period tale with an uprising of the undead and martial arts conflict may have been an original spin on the classic, this isn't the first new take on Jane Austen's novel, regarded as one of the finest works of English language. A quick look at bookshelves will find many adaptations, revisions and reinventions of the novel, including multiple ones involving vampires, but "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" struck a nerve with people, attracting both Austen-ites and zombie fans.

Grahame-Smith has since gone on to write "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter," and the success of the Austen mash-up has led to a prequel, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls" in addition to "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters" and revisions of other books by Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain and others.

The novel has since been adapted to comics by "Doctor Who" comic scribe Tony Lee, who spoke with CBR about the unique job. Joining Lee on the Del Rey published project was artist Cliff Richards, perhaps best known to comics fans for his long run on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and represented on stands this year with DC's "Nemesis: The Impostors." CBR spoke with the two about the project.

How did you both end up adapting "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and what was it about the project that appealed to you?

Tony Lee: Simple answer: I was asked to pitch. Tricia (the editor of the book) had seen me and Kevin Colden the previous year when we'd pitched something - and although that never took off, she remembered me and asked me if I was interested. As it was, I'd read and enjoyed the book, so I jumped at the chance.

< p>When I read the book I remember commenting at the time that it screamed for a movie or a comic. It's a very visual story and I felt that the actual zombie scenes fitted the sequential format nicely. I never realized that I'd be doing it!

Cliff Richards: Almost like all my other jobs came: through Glass House Graphics, the company of my agent and friend David Campiti. It was great when he told me that the publishers wanted me to draw it. It's always awesome when I get a job that I enjoy so much.

What's the major challenge of adapting a novel to comics, especially one like this where you can't really cut much out and there's a lot of plot, lots of dialogue, a number of letters explaining things?

Lee: Space. You take a book that's 400 odd pages in size and make it 150 pages of comic, you have to compress. And with a book like this, there's a ton of dialogue that must be kept in for the Austen purists, and at the same time even more for the Grahame-Smith purists. Your job as adaptor is to adapt the story in the best way you can - not to edit, alter or re-write the story. You need to leave on the comic page the purest distillation of the original source that you can. Some books are easier than others - this indeed had a lot of dialogue heavy scenes that we had to work into the story, and of course Mister Darcy's letter itself that took up about five pages of the novel (or so it seemed) had to be converted into flashback scenes.

But this wasn't my first walk in the park, this was the eleventh book I've adapted in the last four years, so I've learned the tricks by now!

As I said a moment ago, Seth kept certain known and loved lines in the book and so I had to keep them too. But this wasn't technically an adaptation. In fact it was an adaptation of an adaptation - because Seth had adapted the story already to build this new world. So even though I was adapting his book, the rules kinda fall to the wayside then as you realize that you're dealing effectively with the adaptation of two books simultaneously. 

The biggest challenge was the flow - I've always been a fan of do or show rather than tell - I'll avoid large exposition boxes where possible. Which means that the story moves along with dialogue and actions rather than panels rammed with exposition like some adaptations do. It's a personal thing, but I think it makes for a more fluid, faster read. And, of course, creating the zombie fight scenes were incredible fun! 

Were there any elements of the book that you knew couldn't be left out and just had to be included in the comic?

Lee: It's an adaptation. everything had to be included into the comic. Seth had already distilled the original book to create his - to distill more would start to hurt the core story. Sure, you can edit lines or prune dialogue, but you can't merge characters, change scenes, that sort of thing. You have to carry the story just as the book did. And that meant a lot of headaches. And, of course, as a comic, you needed to make it visually exciting - which, when a chunk of the book is still discussions of marriage to the right sort of fellow, tea parties and balls, can be a nightmare to script out while keeping it fresh. Luckily there are enough fights and zombie attacks to keep it exciting.

I believe this was the first time the two of you have worked together - what was your working relationship like?

Lee: I never met or even spoke to Cliff during the creation of the book, mainly as he was in another continent and had a workload that would have killed a lesser mortal. I realized early on that if I started emailing him with suggestions, I'd just distract him. But I believe I'll see him at SDCC and I'm sure he'll either sit with me for a drink or try to throttle me. One of the two!

As for what he brought, his style is a classic. The black and white art that he drew is beautiful and although perfect, also has that slightly ragged edge, an almost "unfinished" side to it that shows in the zombie attacks, the moments when reality frays around the edges a little. I thought it was incredible and am truly blessed to have had such a brilliant artist on my side there! Richards: This is my first work with Tony Lee and it couldn't be more pleasant. I've read some of his work for the comic book market before and have to say that it is an honor to have the chance to work directly with him on "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies."

It's good when you have a syntony at work. I believe he liked to work in the book as much as I did. He described the scenes precisely, which made my life easy. I hope to get to work with him again soon.

Cliff, you seem a very sensible and natural choice for a book like this. After your long run on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and other comics, drawing women kicking ass would seem to be fairly simple for you, but was there anything that was a real challenge on the book?

Richards: Indeed, I felt pretty comfortable when drawing the fighting scenes; it was like being back at home after a long journey. I can't say that it was a challenge, but to work with fight scenes using the clothing of the period was a little odd. Sometimes the characters had to jump out and do a roundhouse kick, and it was not so easy to draw as naturally as when the character wears pants instead of long skirts. But it worked out allright after all.

How much of the look of the book was decided by you, and how much was dictated by the publisher - doing the book in black and white, etc.

Richards: The publisher asked for very detailed aspects of the time period and to work for a black and white book. They also gave me the instructions for the main characters, but didn't suggest any directions, like them looking like any familiar actor or actress, so I came up with the looks for all the characters by myself and the grainy mood for the black and white art style.

Obviously, this isn't a precisely detailed look at the Regency period, but did you do much in the way of research in terms of the setting, the weaponry, etc.

Richards: I had to do some research for accuracy on the right details for the time period. I Googled a lot and watched "Pride and Prejudice" to help to acquire exactly the right look for the buildings, men and women, clothing, chariots, etc. But that was fun.

Do you have a favorite character that you designed?

Richards: The main couple of the books are my favorites: Elizabeth and Darcy. I was careful to give them the personality and charm from the book. I didn't use the "P&P" movie as reference for them. From the script I got from Tony, I felt that they should be a little different from the movie characters, although they are similar in some aspects. Besides them, I also liked to work on the powerful father figure of Mister Bennet.

You've done a lot of licensed projects like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the adaptation of "My Name is Bruce" for Dark Horse. This being a literary adaptation, did not having specific photo references make the job easier and more freeing?

Richards: Not having to work on likenesses for a real, known actor or actress is always more free and easy, but not completely easy. Even if you can gather pics from famous persons in various different angles to help to create all kind of scenes and situations, there are always some points you can't cover. When you use just a free adaptation, you can have them in whatever position you need to help the layout to become more fluid and natural.

Cliff, I know you're illustrating "Nemesis: The Imposters" for DC. What else are you working on?

Richards: I just wrapped "Nemesis" for DC. The style I used to draw it was clearly influenced by the work on "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." The grainy dark mood is there as anyone can see. It's a style that I want to keep using forever, because I intended to work with it even before I broke into the American comic book market. My next project is not clear yet, but I'll do it with the same art style, whatever it is, for sure. I hope the readers like it!

Tony I know you're still hard at work writing "Doctor Who" for IDW and you've mentioned you're writing a King Arthur project. Anything else you're working on that you can talk about?

Lee: Well, the King Arthur book, "Excalibur: The Legend Of King Arthur," comes out in March 2011 with art by Sam Hart, and we're really excited about that. I have several adaptations of Anthony Hororwitz books coming out this year, including "Ravens Gate" with Dom Reardon and Lee O'Connor - that's with Walker Books, and also four of the Horowitz Horror short stories have been adapted for Franklin Watts by Dan Boultwood and myself.

As for other things, apart from the "Doctor Who" work, there's not a great deal I can really talk about, but expect news very soon about the Baker Street Irregulars series of books that Dan Boultwood and I were teasing at the London MCM Expo, as well as a Lovecraftian Steampunk tale and a one shot for a rather excellent book franchise.

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