Sanderson Rides the "Wheel of Time"

After "Wheel of Time" author Robert Jordan's untimely death in 2007, fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson was hand-picked for the task of completing the Jordan's saga. Sanderson's task was seemingly simple: write the final book of "Wheel of Time."

That novel, entitled "A Memory of Light," ended up being broken down into three separate books, the first of which, "The Gathering Storm," was released in October 2009. With Dynamite Entertainment's adaptation of the popular fantasy epic set written by Chuck Dixon set for release later this year, CBR News went straight to the Sanderson to get his take on continuing Robert Jordan's legacy, his opinion on comic books and graphic novels as a medium and how he feels about a comic book adaptation of the story he's working so hard to complete.


CBR News: Brandon, let's start with the comic adaptation first.  When you heard that there was going to be a comic adaptation, did you feel any compulsion to write it? 

Brandon Sanderson: No, because at that point I was not involved in the "Wheel of Time" as a writer. At that point I was a fan. I had never felt a compulsion to write the "Wheel of Time" because I enjoyed reading it. And beyond that I'm not sequential storyteller. I'm not disciplined in that style of writing. I want to be; I'm interested in learning to do it, and I'm practicing right now, but it's not something I would have rushed to say to Harriet and Robert Jordan, "Hey, let me do this!" In that case, when I heard of the adaptation, I thought, "Oh, great! I hope they're very good. I'll enjoy reading them."


That being said, we're talking about an enormous story here, so what do you think must make it in to the comic adaptation for it to be successful?  

I think the "Wheel of Time" books lend themselves well to this sort of adaptation. One of the reasons I believe that is that I've always liked Robert Jordan's very visual magic system. Beyond that, he's got a lot of substories and subplots that I feel would work very well in a sequential narrative form, a visual form. So what are my thoughts on it? They're what they were when I first heard of it. "This is a good idea, this is pretty cool. I'm excited."


Have you spoken at all with the adaptation's writer, Chuck Dixon?

I have not spoken with the writer. I have communicated several times with the Dabel Brothers. They occasionally let me get sneak previews of things. Generally, I am so busy with the novels of the "Wheel of Time," my instinct is "Let people do what they're experts of doing." And that means don't go stumbling in and assume that because I know how to write one type of story, that means I know how to write another. I have the same opinion when it comes to film adaptations. I've sold movie rights to two of my books, and they've asked me, "Do you want to write the screenplay?" My answer is, "I'm a novel writer. You hire a really good screenwriter to write a screenplay."

I'd probably be willing to look it over and read it, in the same way I'm interested in reading a script for the "Wheel of Time" films. But I'm not an expert in this. I let people do what they do well, and I get out of their hair. So in this case, I haven't wanted to be involved - I'd happily read over scripts, but as I understand, they've got enough people reading them. Harriet [McDougal, Robert Jordan's wife] has an assistant named Maria who's the continuity expert. She's kind of the keeper of the "Wheel of Time" world in a lot of ways. She's been very involved in the comic adaptation, making sure that everything is consistent. I just trust Maria to do that.

As a writer yourself, what are you thoughts on comics and graphic novels as a storytelling medium?

I enjoy comics and graphic novels quite a bit in all their forms. I'm very heavily into webcomics - I'm something of a webcomic junkie.

The first comic book series I ever read was "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," and I will admit that I got annoyed with the series. One of the things that's kept me from getting deeply into comic books in general is that they do some things that I don't like. They switch artists very frequently, they switch writers very frequently, and they have 50 years of continuity and those sorts of things. I don't like that; it doesn't appeal to me. It seems like the story just kind of keeps on going and going and going. I like stories with a beginning, middle and end, even if they're long - that's fine.

I particularly like things where the vision of a single creator, or a couple of creators, shepherds them all the way through and are in charge of them. For instance, I think "Watchmen" is pure genius. I love some of the online graphic novels I've read. But I haven't been able to get into a lot of the superhero comics for those reasons. Now, I'll read a short graphic novel grouping that someone has done that tells a beginning, middle and end of a character story. But the fact that when I next go pick up something about that character, it generally has a different artist and writer, actually bothers me. I feel that if there's going to be a different artist and writer, let them tell their own new story and not try and adapt the characters I've already come to know into a new form. That's where comics and I part. That's why I actually prefer something like the "Wheel of Time" graphic novel, because even if they do change writers or artists through the course of it, at least I know it will be telling one big story with Robert Jordan's unique vision shepherding it along the way.

Is comics writing something you'd be interested in exploring, and where would you like to go if you did try your hand in the medium?  Would you stick with fantasy?  Dabble in super-heroes?

Personally, I consider superheroes part of fantasy, or fantasy an aspect of superheroes. They're all under the same speculative fiction umbrella. I am interested in writing for comics. If I do get into it, it will probably be through dabbling in a webcomic. I've dabbled in them a little bit in the past. I would be interested in writing and working with an artist to create something and see how it turns out. That's generally how I approach things - I try it and then I practice at it and see how I like it. So you'll probably see me doing some webcomics and some graphic novels in the future. I'm dabbling with it right now - I can't really announce anything yet, but I'm very curious to see how it turns out. I will probably stick with fantasy, but superheroes aren't outside the realm of possibility.

Let's talk about finishing up the legacy that Robert Jordan has left behind.  That has to be a daunting task.  What has it been like to step in to his shoes?

It's been a very humbling experience and a great honor. When I first went to Robert Jordan's house and started looking through the notes, I felt like I was walking into Da Vinci's workshop a moment after the master had stepped out. I could never replace him - Robert Jordan should have been the one to finish this book. My main goal in writing the books has been not to imitate him, but to stay true to the souls of the characters. I think of it as taking over as director for a few scenes of a movie while maintaining the same actors and script. I can be proud of my role as director, but ultimately, the end result still belongs to Robert Jordan - and to his fans. Part of me is sad that for the first time I can't just be one of them; I didn't get to rush out and buy and read a new Robert Jordan book this past October like they did. But the fans have done so in droves, and I believe that, somewhere, Robert Jordan is pleased with how this chance for the fans to read his story's newest chapter has turned out.

Obviously, the initial experience was a bit nervewracking for you, but as time has gone on, have you become more comfortable in your role?

Yes. I have become a little more comfortable with what I'm doing. That came fairly early on, as I got invested more and more into the story and the characters. The first few scenes I wrote were somewhat awkward, and I threw those away. It's gotten better and better until, now, I feel very comfortable writing in this world. There's still a little bit of anxiety, because I do get things wrong, and I know I'm going to get things wrong. I want to keep checking back to Robert Jordan's original writing and make sure I'm staying true to the themes and the story he was telling rather than deviating off into my own place. I think that anxiety will always be there; it should always be there.

Why do you think that finishing the "Wheel of Time" series is important? 

Various reasons. On a personal level, it was my favorite fantasy series as a youth. I grew up with it, and it's influenced and inspired me as a writer. I think that it's important to finish because so many of us have been waiting so long for this ending. The desires of the fans are important to us writers - and I'm one of the fans; I want to see this ending. It's also important to finish because Robert Jordan asked for it to be finished. He was one of the great masters of our field, and this is something I can do to help to give a little bit back for all the wonderful stories that he gave me when I was growing up, and for the changes and influence he had upon my writing during my journeyman era as a writer. And I think the "Wheel of Time" is one of the most powerful fantasy epics ever told. It's important to finish it so it can be complete and done.

How much research have you had to do in order to write the last books?

Quite a bit. Most of it has been involved in reading the books. I reread the entire series straight through before I wrote the first part of "A Memory of Light," "The Gathering Storm," and I will have to read them through all again soon, as well. I've also been deeply involved in searching through the notes and researching what Robert Jordan was planning to do, building plots and fleshing out the outline and digging through heaps and heaps and heaps of notes. Harriet believes (she hasn't done a specific count) that Robert Jordan wrote more about the "Wheel of Time" than he actually included in the series itself. If that's true, there are three million words to sort through. I haven't counted it either, but I've been sorting through a lot of it. I'm very grateful to have Maria and Alan helping me dig through all of this to find the things that we need.

Finally, some "Wheel of Time" fans may resist picking up the comics because maybe they've never read or haven't read comics in years.  What would you say to those readers to get them to pick up this adaptation?

They're gorgeous. Also, a lot of people have expressed some concern about the fact that the book series has been going on so long, and that reading through from the beginning each time a new book comes out is very draining on readers. I can kind of understand, because having read the books as many times as I have, there are some times that it can feel like you've just finished the series, and then, by the time a new one comes out, you've forgotten enough again. Well, one great thing about the graphic novels will be that you'll be able to read the story, but experience it in a new way, so you can pick up on all the things you need to, get refamiliarized with the "Wheel of Time," and yet have a new experience at the same time. I think that's a wonderful opportunity.

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