NYCC: Patterson Takes a "Maximum Ride" with Marvel

Imagine a world where a group of outcast, winged teenagers struggle against the secret lab that experimented upon them and find themselves reluctantly thrown into a quest to save the world from utter destruction. Sounds like something you would find in a comic, right? In fact, it's the premise for writer James Patterson's best-selling "Maximum Ride" series of YA prose novels.

In Spring of 2015, readers will get to see what the world of "Maximum Ride" will look like in four-color form as Marvel Comics launches "James Patterson's Maximum Ride: First Flight," a five-issue adaptation of the first novel in the series, announced yesterday at New York Comic Con. CBR News spoke with Patterson about the adaptation, which he hopes Marvel will make their own, the work being done on the series by artist Alex Sanchez ("Katana," "Elektra") and his own love of comics.

CBR News: James, what made Marvel the right place for this adaptation? And bringing "Maximum Ride" to comics suggest to me that you're a fan of the medium. Is that true? Were you a comic fan growing up? And do you read them now?

James Patterson: Yes to both. And I'm excited to be working with Marvel because they do what they do very well.

I grew up with comic books. That's pretty much how I learned how to read. In those days comic books were everywhere. They were at every drug store. They were at all the news stands. They were at every super market. I don't know exactly how that changed, but something changed pretty drastically.

In fact, comics were how most of us learned how to read; Spider-Man, Batman, and they used to have all these classic comic books back then like "Last of the Mohicans" and "Treasure Island." There were the ducks like, Donald, Daffy, Daisy, and Scrooge McDuck. [Laughs] It was a combination of adventure stories and wacky, funny stuff.
Those stories were what got a lot of us using our imaginations and one of the tragedies of my young life happened when I came home after my first year of college and discovered that my mother had thrown out all my comic books. I couldn't believe it. I think if I had killed her then the courts would have let me off. [Laughs] It would have been justified.

This isn't the first time your work had been adapted for comics. What it is about the visual language of comics that appeals to you?

That it is visual. I think I'm pretty visual myself. All the novels I write are pretty visual. We've dabbled in the movie business with the three Alex Cross films. There's also "Zoo," which is also very visual and CBS is doing as a 13-part series for the summer. There actually was a "Zoo" graphic novel in addition to the book itself.

I think the biggest thing here is we have James Patterson's "Maximum Ride," but this is Marvel's "Maximum Ride." I challenged them to outdo me. I said, "Make it better. Do what you want to do. This is your baby. Reboot it. What would you change? What would you keep?" So I want this to be a real treat for people who aren't aware of the series and also something new and interesting for people who are.

So your involvement with this series would be comparable to an Executive Producer-style role?

I don't know what the exact term would be, but I will see everything and we'll talk about it. I'm very quick about reading and making notes. I can even get movie scripts back in about a day.

What would you like comic fans who may not be familiar with the property to know about "Maximum Ride?" What I've read suggests something akin to an X-Men vibe in that the series deals with outcast teenagers who are forced to save the world.

Yeah, there is that, but what I love about our group of characters is that they grow up in this outlaw laboratory and when I was researching "When the Wind Blows" and the "Maximum Ride" series I talked to a lot of scientists and they all said that because of advances in biotech things like this can happen. Not that they would happen, but it is physically possible to create humans with wings who can fly. So I kind of went from there.

Plus there is that fantasy of being able to fly. What drew me to write the novels was I wanted to write about what it would be like to fly from a human point of view. I thought that would be really intriguing.

Then once this group escapes from the laboratory they're being chased, they're unfamiliar with the world so it's a big puzzle to be figured out, and they have to take responsibility for one another. They don't have mentors and people who are going to explain things to them and solve their problems. They have to do it all themselves.
So they're not just saving the world, which to me is kind of a cliche and we certainly deal with. It's them being thrown out into the world and being totally unprepared for it and it doesn't matter. Ready or not you have to survive.

This isn't the first time "Maximum Ride" has been adapted for comics. There was also a series of English-language manga adaptations. What is it about the property that made you want to see it adapted into two very different styles of comics?

Part of it is this fantasy of flying. There's been research done and it is the biggest fantasy that people have both kids and adults. It's a loaded fantasy that has to deal with a lot of different things. It's physical and it's sexual. We watch Michael Jordan and Lebron James thirty inches up and we want that. We want to be able to take off. That's the only problem with driving. The cars don't take off yet.

In terms of comparison it sounds like the Marvel adaptation of "Maximum Ride" will have a little more freedom while the manga adaptation was a very tight one?

Yes, the manga was very tight and with the Marvel books we'll see. That's the challenge. I can't wait to see where they want to take things. I know they won't move too far away from the books, but I've encouraged them to make it Marvelous.

Have you seen the work of any of the creators involved?

Yes, the artist. We looked at a bunch of artists last time I was in the offices and we all agreed on Alex Sanchez.

What I've seen of Alex's work is very dynamic and he does some exciting things with layouts.

I agree. I thought there was a nice fluidity to his work. And sometimes this doesn't work very well, but I thought he also captured the humanity of the characters pretty well. He does great facial expressions.

So the ability to capture the humanity and what's interesting about the characters, plus the ability to bring some exciting movement to the page is what I was looking for in an artist for this book.

Has a writer been found for the series yet?

No, not that I'm aware of.

Finally Marvel's "Maximum Ride: First Flight" is an adaptation of the first novel in the series, "The Angel Experiment." Currently there are eight books in the series with a ninth one on the way. Are you interested in seeing all the books eventually adapted at Marvel?

Yes, let's see what happens! Obviously comic book stores may be more familiar with Marvel than they are with me. Then in the Targets, Walmarts, and Barnes and Nobles they are very familiar with me and not as familiar with comic books. So hopefully between the two we build up a real nice audience.

Is there a possibility of Marvel doing original stories set in the "Maximum Ride" universe further down the line?

I'm sure that will come up.

"Maximum Ride" launches at Marvel in Spring 2015.

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