Drowning with NOLAN: SEAN MURPHY Works with DARK KNIGHT Director On New Comic

Excerpt from "Absolute Zero" by Christopher Nolan and Sean Murphy
Credit: Wired
Murphy: "With the refs the studio sent me, I had no excuse not to nail every detail. They even had pictures of the coffee pot."
Murphy: "With the refs the studio sent me, I had no excuse not to nail every detail. They even had pictures of the coffee pot."

The first time Sean Murphy met Christopher Nolan, he almost died in a pool. But we’ll get to that later.

Wired.com has released a seven page comic done by Murphy and Nolan based on the movie Interstellar. The comic will be published in the December issue of Wired magazine guest-edited by director Christopher Nolan. The issue, which goes on sale November 25, has an overarching theme of “Time, Space and Multiple Dimensions” according to Wired’s announcement.

"We believe its innovative structure is something no magazine has tried before,” said Scott Dadich, the magazine’s Editor-In-Chief. “We promise some truly mind-warping stories from this collaboration."

Murphy tells Newsarama that this was an “out-of-the-blue completely unexpected gig,” saying that Nolan found his work online and reached out about a collaboration. The project came up the week of New York Comic Con, forcing the artist to re-arrange his schedule, including work on the recently announced Chrononauts with Mark Millar, but with Mark’s blessing.

Sean Murphy & Christopher Nolan
Sean Murphy & Christopher Nolan

“Most of the jobs I get offered are through the normal pinball effect of my normal networking,” said Murphy, whose done other projects outside comics for Nike and Land Rover. “This one was so great that I thought it was a hoax.”

When Murphy was initially approached about doing a comic based on Nolan’s Interstellar, Murphy thought it would be a licensed comic similar to those he’s done in the past for Star Trek. What he found was a “personal” working environment between himself, Nolan, and the others involved in the project.

“It’s interesting how fast things get done when you gather everyone in the same room without a lot of the in-between assistance and legal hurdles,” Murphy says. “I wish every project was run this smoothly."

Once he agreed to do the project, Murphy flew out to Los Angeles and sat in on a screening of Interstellar with Nolan at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre. Afterwards, they traveled to a nearby production house that Nolan had been working out of. The workspace was filled with props from Nolan’s movies said Murphy, from the original models of the Batpod to the top from Inception.

“I had my game face on the whole time, but I was geeking out on the inside,” admits the artist. “Mostly my goal was to assure Nolan and Wired that they hired the right guy. They were all very flattering: they didn't reach out to me because of any book I did, because of my brief Batman stuff, or because of the Eisner. They'd simply done a blind search online and found some black and white art they really liked.”

While some artists might be discouraged that Nolan wasn’t aware of his published work, Murphy said that being chosen to work on this comic based strictly on online art was invigorating.

“In a way, they had no idea who I was until a few days prior. Which for me is a big compliment: I'm thrilled to have had a lot of success lately, but there's always the worry that you've lost your edge and that publishers/editors are just ‘yes men’ who are afraid to call you out because of some award/book you've done/sales you've made,” Murphy tells Newsarama. “When they told me that I was picked based on art alone, I thought, ‘Good--I've still got it.’”

Murphy: "Likenesses are hard to nail, but Nolan asked me not make it too close to Damon's face, because he was worried it would be stiff. If you look close, I made a paper patch to fix his eye."
Murphy: "Likenesses are hard to nail, but Nolan asked me not make it too close to Damon's face, because he was worried it would be stiff. If you look close, I made a paper patch to fix his eye."

Nolan admitted to Murphy that although he’s written movies – and movies based on comics – he didn’t have a clear idea of the proper format of a script for a comic.

“In his own words, Chris said that he'd never written a comic and had no idea about the proper format. His script was hand written--mostly dialog with a few notes (and sketches) about visuals. He said he was happy to hear my notes on how he could make it work better, but I told him not to sweat it,” Murphy explains. “As a (part time) writer who's worked on stuff like this before, I was confident that I could fill in the gaps myself without having to take up too much of his time. It was a risk, but I had a hunch I could give him what he wanted. My impression of Chris was that although he had strong artistic convictions (obvious from his movies), he also had strong managerial skills and knew when to let someone do their thing. My hunch was that if I acted professionally and made it clear that I was a thoughtful person doing my best to carefully work with his vision, he'd be fine with what I came up with. I was right--in the end, he only had a handful of tweaks to the art.”

Murphy:  "I wasn't sure how beefy to make Damon. I might have gone too far here, but they didn't say anything. The reflection in the wall was my idea."
Murphy: "I wasn't sure how beefy to make Damon. I might have gone too far here, but they didn't say anything. The reflection in the wall was my idea."

Murphy’s experienced hurdled in the past dealing with drawing comics featuring actors and the legalities of getting rights and permissions, and was surprised he didn’t have to deal with that for this project despite drawing Matt Damon’s character from Interstellar.

“I worked on Star Trek for IDW a while back, and there was three layers of people between me and Patrick Stewart’s people on how his face would appear in the comic,” Murphy revealed.

Murphy did admit to going back to tweak a couple things at the request of Nolan, most notably the size of the robot featured in the comic.

“I drew the robot way too skinny,” Murphy said with a chuckle. “They asked me to thicken him up, and gave me all these photos from the set that were great reference for the robot as well as other elements such as inside the pod.”

For this project, Murphy enlisted longtime collaborator Matt Hollingsworth to color the work and a participant in his recent apprenticeship program, Tana Ford, to letter.

Both Murphy and Nolan have worked on Batman, but the artist says the two didn’t discuss the dark knight or any superheroes for that matter.

“Currently, I don't think Chris reads comics. But he mentioned that he used to when he was younger,” reveals Murphy. “Mostly black and white stuff printed on cheap paper though--2000AD stuff from the 70s I'm guessing. I handed him a copy of Punk Rock Jesus before I left, so maybe he'll eventually get through that.”

For Wired's part in this, Murphy worked with the magazine's Creative Director, Billy Sorrentino. Murphy said he found common ground with Sorrentino with their shared love of  motorcycles, but struck up even a deeper connection when he discovered the Wired staffer had an original piece of art by Jim Lee in his office.

"The more I tried to ask him about magazines, the more he wanted to know about comics," Murphy explains. "And if Jim Lee is reading this, I should give you Billy's phone number so you can call him. He'll freak out, I'm sure. "

Murphy’s confidence level was high after the whirlwind meeting, but he almost found himself sunk as he made his exit from Nolan’s offices.

“On the way out,” Murphy says,” we walked through a gray cement patio while I tried to think of a cool way to say goodbye. Suddenly I stepped on a covered pool--the tarp was gray like the patio, and I didn't see it. I slowly started to sink, mumbled ‘Oh shit!’ to myself, then quickly jumped off, hoping no one would notice.”

Murphy: "I was so nervous to meet Chris, I had a few glasses of wine at my hotel to calm my nerves."
Murphy: "I was so nervous to meet Chris, I had a few glasses of wine at my hotel to calm my nerves."

“Everyone had.”

“Nolan looked at me and said, ‘When the guys installed it, they'd told me it was strong enough to hold up the weight of my kids. I guess now we know."

“I replied, ‘Or a 185 pound childish adult.’ And we all laughed,” Murphy says. “On the way out, as I said goodbye, I told him that if he ever needed me to safety check another pool, I was his man.”

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