Michael Benedetto Shifts Into Gear with "Drive" at IDW

The film that inadvertently inspired a generation of cosplayers to run out and get silver jackets embroidered with golden scorpions is coming to comics! "Drive," a four-issue limited series adapted from James Sallis' original novel, will debut from IDW Publishing this August. In the driver's seat for this adaptation is IDW assistant editor Michael Benedetto, who has "G.I. Joe: Cobra Files" artist Antonio Fuso riding shotgun.

Originally published in 2005, Sallis' crime novel was first adapted by director Nicolas Winding Refn for a film of the same name. The big screen "Drive," followed an enigmatic Hollywood stunt driver through his life as a hired wheelman, starred Ryan Gosling as the lead along with Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston. The independent film earned critical success and grossed a healthy $76 million worldwide off of a modest $15 million budget.

Now it's time for the story to shift gears and become a comic. The change from written word to film and now to sequential art has been an interesting journey, but Benedetto and Fuso feel they're up to the task. It helps that Sallis has supported the project from the get-go. CBR News talked to Benedetto about creating a version of this story with a style all its own, potential collaborations with Sallis and changing lanes from editing to writing.

CBR News: You're primarily a comic book editor, but now you're adapting "Drive." How did this role change come about?

Michael Benedetto: The editor for "Drive" here at IDW, Justin Eisinger, was listening to the soundtrack to Nicolas Winding Refn's movie one day and we got to talking. He mentioned this project -- bringing "Drive" to comics -- and I told him how much of a fan I am of the movie. I hadn't read James Sallis' book yet, but it didn't take long to become a huge fan of that as well. I've done a little bit of writing work here on top of my editing duties and I was lucky enough to be asked to do the adaptation once things got started.

The book focuses on a stunt man who moonlights as a driver-for-hire. What can you tell us about the adventures he gets into as the series kicks off?

The story is really about one guy just trying to get by in L.A. Being able to do anything behind the wheel and under the hood opens up a lot of doors for him, so he works as a stuntman and makes some extra money on the side as a getaway driver. He tries to keep to himself, but balancing these two parts of his life -- these two parts of the city, really -- isn't easy. So if you're not familiar with "Drive" at all, there will be a lot of car chases, crime, and shootouts packed into a modern noir-style story -- all the good stuff.

Has it been difficult incorporating car chases into the comic? Many writers and artists note that they can be difficult in this medium.

I would agree with them. Car chases definitely won't have the same feel that they do in a movie where they can play out over several scenes (or the entire movie in some cases -- "Mad Max"), but they're a crucial part of this story, and I think fans of "Drive" and newcomers alike will still really enjoy them on the page. Really, I'm just lucky that these are all now in Antonio's and [colorist] Jason [Lewis]'s capable hands, and I have complete confidence they'll do them justice.

Getaway drivers don't usually get to take it easy. What kind of trouble does he get into?

As a getaway driver, things never go exactly as planned, but after one heist goes particularly bad, he ends up in possession of something that belongs to some higher-ups in the L.A. crime world -- and they're none too happy about it.

What was your process for developing the comic script from the book?

After a couple reads, I started pulling out the dialogue and specific chapters I knew we wanted to focus on. Sallis' dialogue is definitely one of the best parts of this book, and of course that's going to be a prominent part of the comic, but there are also these short chapters that tell these great, self-contained stories about L.A. I wanted to include as much of that as I could to try and make L.A. as much of a part of the comic as the characters. After talking things through with a couple of people here [at IDW], we laid everything out for Sallis, and he loved it. That made things a lot easier -- and a lot more fun -- knowing we had the greenlight from Sallis to do "Drive" in the way we felt would be best for comics.

Is it difficult working on an adaptation like this, one that is based on a book that was also turned into a film possessed of a specific style?

It is a little challenging. The film adaptation is amazing in its own right, but it's telling a bit of a different story. There are several great scenes in the movie that are taken directly from the book, so we'll get to show those off in our own way -- more specifically, Antonio will get to show those off. There are also a few surprises for those who've only seen the movie. Sallis was kind enough to compare our project to the film, saying, "This kind of loving development goes beyond adaptation; it's true re-creation." I really appreciate that and like to think it's true. We're being faithful to his book, but we're also offering an experience that you can't get from the novel or the movie.

What made Antonio the right artist for this project?

Antonio's proven himself as an artist who can really capture action well -- and he draws a mean muscle car. We had quite a few artists sending in samples, but his character design and test page really stuck out for me, and [editor] Justin [Eisinger] agreed. Seeing the first few pages come in with colors by Jason Lewis, I knew we were lucky to have them both on board.

It sounds like working with Antonio on developing the visual style of the comic has been a really positive experience.

Like I said, Antonio's style was something we thought would be great for the series from the start, and he's showing us we made the right call. Developing the look and feel of the characters was a lot of fun and I can't wait to see them all as the series goes forward. There's also been a lot of discussion about what parts of L.A. we're visiting and what cars we see cruising around, but I'm amazed at how Antonio has been able to take that and bring in his own ideas to really make each page tell this story in the best way possible for comics.

It sound like you have a good working relationship with Sallis; do you think there's potential for more comics beyond the adaptation?

Definitely. Working with Sallis on this project has been a real treat, and his [2012] sequel to "Drive," titled "Driven," is something that we'll be working on sometime in 2016 -- so stay tuned!

"Drive" #1 from Michael Benedetto, Antonio Fuso and IDW hits stands in mid August.

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