What if there was a comic book…that could kill you? Chris Wooding’s Malice holds the chilling answer. The young-readers novel/graphic novel from Scholastic tells of a group of friends in the British town of Hathern, who discover that calling the name of Tall Jake six times will trap you in the deadly world of a comic called “Malice.” And in Malice…there is no escape.
The book, which has a distinctive 3-D molded-plastic cover, combines prose sections with comic book pages set in Malice illustrated by Dan Chernett. We spoke with Chris Wooding about his comics-prose hybrid, and what readers can expect in the story’s conclusion in next year’s Havoc.
Newsarama: Chris, how did the premise for Malice come about, and what made you want to do it as a combination of prose and sequential art?
Chris Wooding: The premise came after the idea to do a prose / sequential art combination. I’d wanted to do a combination book and graphic novel because I liked the thought of playing around with the contrasting styles.
But to make it work, I needed to have a comic book element that was more than just a gimmick: I couldn’t just write any old story and convert sections of it to comic art. So it needed to be a book about a comic, to make the art relevant. And that was how the story of Malice fell out…
Nrama: What was the experience of writing the Malice comic like?
Wooding: A lot of fun. I like writing comic pages, discovering the rhythm of the panels, learning how much you can and can’t express. It’s good to stretch myself as a writer instead of always doing prose work: I write screenplays for the same reason.
I’d actually had some practice at the comic game, having written a graphic novel to be published by Scholastic, which is with an artist now. But this was the first time I’d seen my work turned to art. It’s interesting to see someone else’s take on what’s in your imagination.
An artist puts his or her interpretation on the page and takes that responsibility away from the author and the reader. I’m not sure whether I prefer the ambiguity of words or not, but it certainly changes the way you look at a story when you have those images nailed down.
Nrama: Had you worked with Dan Chernett before, and what was your collaboration like? How did you design such characters as Tall Jake?
Wooding: I hadn’t worked with him before. I think our relationship was pretty atypical for a project like this, in that we never actually spoke. The publisher was like a middleman between us. There was no real reason for it: the publisher wasn’t actually keeping us apart. We just started out that way and I suppose neither of us questioned it.
I’d provide a pretty detailed script and very detailed descriptions. Dan would come back with sketches and layouts. I’d make suggestions or changes, and he’d come back with a second take.
That was usually enough. One of the reasons we picked him as an artist was that he and I thought along the same lines as far as character and monster designs, so he didn’t need much direction. Dan was working under some duress, I have to say, as due to publishing deadlines he was often inking pages while I was still writing the text of the book.
So he’d draw a character and give them an eye patch or something, a bit of artistic license, and I’d have to be like: ‘No, no, he can’t have an eye patch, because I’ve been writing about him for three chapters now and if he’d had an eye patch I’m pretty sure I’d have mentioned it.’ Which of course Dan couldn’t possibly have known about. And so it went…
Nrama: What are some of your favorite comics, and what's the scariest comic you've ever read?
Wooding: I’m a graphic-novel guy. I can’t handle the wait for monthly or bi-monthly comics; I need the story finished so I can buy the whole thing. My favourite comic story is Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. One of the best epic stories ever written in any medium. When you use the comic form like that, you can do anything.
Other particular favourites are Alan Moore’s The Ballad of Halo Jones, Jeff Smith’s Bone, and Takahashi’s Maison Ikkoku
Scariest comic I ever read? Maus.
Nrama: Did scripting the comic book portions of the novel affect the way you wrote the prose sections? That is, did working in a visual medium such as comics inspire you to be more visual in your prose, or more action-oriented?
Wooding: Not really, but that’s mostly because I’m already about as visual and action-oriented in my prose as I can get. I’ve been told over and over that my books read like movies, and that’s how I see them.
In my head, scenes are shot from certain angles, there are camera pans, all of that kind of stuff. Converting those visuals to comic format was mostly a matter of adapting them to the rhythm of paneling.
Nrama: I should ask about the molded plastic cover, which is quite fun and distinctive. How did it come about?
Wooding: That was Scholastic’s idea. I think they were really interested in doing some badass 3D molding stuff for a long while, and Malice just gave them the opportunity.
Nrama: Do you see yourself doing more comics in the future?
Wooding: As mentioned above, there’s a project with Scholastic, with a release date in 2011. I’d definitely like to do more in the future. I love the medium and the freedom it gives you to tell a story visually.
Nrama: What were some of the cultural influences you drew from for this story? Tall Jake has his roots in Bloody Mary, and Henry Galesworth is a nod to L. Frank Baum...
Wooding: Bloody Mary is exactly who I was thinking of when I came up with Tall Jake. Our British version of the same urban legend dictates that if you say the “Hail Mary” backwards in a mirror, then the Devil appears to take you away.
The story is really an amalgamation of all the rumors that used to swirl around the playground when I was a kid. There was always some “forbidden” movie or book or place that some kid you knew claimed to have seen/read/been to. I drew on some of the enduring urban legends that are familiar to most British kids – and probably to Americans too, in a different form – and I treated them as if they were real.
Nrama: Why did you want to split the story in two?
Wooding: Because it was too long for one book and not long enough for three. Plus, given the amount of time it takes to draw all those comic pages, it came down to a question of timing. Half now and half later, or wait two years and get the whole thing in one go? Since it divided into two quite neatly, I went with option A.
Nrama: What can readers expect in Havoc?
Wooding: Malice asked a lot of questions: Havoc gives a lot of answers. There are several new characters, bigger, more widescreen action, and we get to see much more of the world of Malice and the strange people that live there. All leading towards a slam-bang conclusion, natch.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Wooding: Right at the moment I’m finishing the second of an SF/Fantasy series I’m writing for adults. After that, I’m not sure.
I do screen work, adult books, kids books and comic stuff, which gives me a pretty full plate. The problem is usually choosing which one I want to work on next. But I’ve just written four books back-to-back, so maybe I’ll write a movie.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Wooding: The above-mentioned SF books. I’m pleased to say Spectra have just picked up the first two books for release in the US: Retribution Falls and The Black Lung Captain. They follow the misadventures of a crew of dysfunctional sky pirates, and they’re a ton of fun. Release date TBC.
Malice is in stores now.
Zack Smith (email@example.com) is a regular contributor to Newsarama.