Guggenheim: Adapting & Expanding Stephen King's "N"

One of the more obvious trends in comics over the last few years is the adaptation of successful novels to comic books. Not only are classics getting the comic treatment at Marvel, but current, high-profile authors are turning to comic books as another medium for their prose stories.

Probably leading the charge in comics adaptations is novelist Stephen King, whose first foray into translating his novels to comics was Marvel's adaptation of his The Dark Tower series. That comic attracted King fans by the thousands, and he's since adapted The Stand at Marvel and The Talisman with Peter Straub as a comic at Del Rey.

Now the author is bringing his short story N. to Marvel with a four-issue limited series that starts in March. Adapted by writer Marc Guggenheim with art by Alex Maleev, the N. comic book will actually add to King's original short story, which was recently released in the Just After Sunset collection.

Comic book fans – and King's enthusiasts – will remember that Guggenheim and Maleev already adapted N. as a motion comic that was released by Marvel in 2008 before the story even saw print. But the pair had to re-engineer the story for comic books, expanding the 25 short video episodes into four printed comics, taking the spoken dialogue and making it work in word balloons, and redoing the artwork to tell the story in a sequential format.

Plus, the new format allowed Guggenheim and Maleev to add some brand new elements to N. that have never been explored before.

N. tells the story of a psychiatrist who falls victim of the same mysterious obsession as one of his patients – a man simply labeled as "N." The obsession stems from a visit to a circle of rocks placed in "Ackerman's Field" on the outskirts of town, and it starts to affect more than just one person.

With the release of the series scheduled for March 3rd, Newsarama spoke with Guggenheim to find out more about the adaptation and what the writer was able to add to the story that readers have never been told before.

Newsarama:  Marc, is this a direct translation to printed form of the motion comic? Or are there differences?

Marc Guggenheim: It's not a direct translation. I had expected it to be, but once I started scripting the comic, I quickly realized that I had to reinvent the wheel. That was the only way to do justice to the source material. I had tried to utilize as much of Alex Maleev's original mobisode series art as possible, but trooper that he is, Alex ended up taking a similar approach and redrawing a lot of elements. So as far as the basic story told by the motion comic is concerned, we basically re-engineered everything, art and story, from the ground up.

In addition, four issues gave us more room to put back some elements from Stephen King's story that I had to excise for time/space when adapting it for the mobisode series. A lot more of his original writing is present in the comic adaptation. 

Most exciting, however, is the fact that we were also able to include some brand new content that takes Mr. King's story and expands upon it. So even if you've read the story a million times – as I have – there are still a lot of new paths and characters that are introduced in the comic.  

For example, the beginning is completely new and sheds new light on the origins of the standing stones in Ackerman's Field. The ending, while taking significant inspiration from Mr. King's ending, is also completely new.  And, of course, we've sprinkled other new elements and characters throughout the middle of the series as well.

Nrama Why do you think "N" was one of the earliest King stories to be illustrated and approached as a comic story? Was it the right story structure, the right length, or what?

Guggenheim: I wasn't party to that decision, so I honestly don't know.  My guess is that the fact that N. is one of Mr. King's most recent short stories played a role. It's also very elegantly structured and the concept – the passing of psychoses like a virus – is incredibly interesting and provocative. It's certainly my favorite story in the Just After Sunset collection in which it first appeared.

Nrama: Why does this story appeal to you as a writer so much that you're involved in both the motion comic and the printed adaptation?

Guggenheim: I think it's the core premise, the idea of "contagious psychosis," like I said. That's a brilliant idea and I think if you've ever spent any time with someone with a severe mental illness, it explains why the experience is so unsettling.  One of the very clever things Mr. King did in his story was take that core concept and devise a means of pulling the reader into it, making you a participant in the story. The story suggests that you, the reader, might "catch" the same contagion that afflicts the characters.  I think that's incredibly interesting and bold.

Nrama:  Beyond the basic synopsis, what do you, as a writer, see this story as being about, particularly now that you've delved into it so much?

Guggenheim: I think it's about the fragility of sanity.  I think we all harbor a fear that one day we'll just "snap," that we'll "lose it" the way so many people before us have.  It's very close to a universal fear and I like writing about things that are universal, human concerns.  I'm also far more interested in psychological horror, terrors of the mind than I am boogeyman-based horror stories, where there's a physical monster to confront.  Because that physicality provides a means of defeat – monsters can be killed.  But what happens when the monster lives inside your mind?


Nrama: What do you think will appeal to current comic book readers about "N?"

Guggenheim: It sucks you in. The series invites you on a journey of the descent, the downfall of a few very well-drawn (no pun intended) characters. It's provocative. It's frightening. And it's compelling. And it's drawn by Alex Maleev. Honestly, do you need more than that?

Nrama: How was it working with Alex Maleev on the adaptation?

Guggenheim: First off, let me say that one of the things I LOVE about working in comics is that I get a chance to collaborate with people of whose work I'm already a fan. I've loved Alex's work from Day One, and from Day Two, I've wanted to work with him. His involvement was a big reason I said "yes" when Marvel offered me the gig.  

Nrama: How did his style influence the way you approached the story?

Guggenheim: Well, his style fits the story perfectly – like a hand in a glove.  He's got just the right mix of photo-realism and artistic flair in his work.  There are portions of the story that are just two characters in a room talking, but I knew that Alex had what it takes to make those moments work.  In fact, he's amazing at developing an incredibly charged atmosphere just from two people staring at each other.

Relying on the photo-realistic half of Alex's arsenal, I wanted to invoke the "documentary" feel that Mr. King gave his story by choosing to tell it through "real" documents – a letter, psychiatrist's notes, newspaper clipping, etc. With an artist like Alex, I felt comfortable asking for what I call "chapter pages" – splash pages that open each chapter with a photo-real shot of the "documents" that Mr. King used in his story. It gives the series a feel that, hopefully, sucks you in the same way Mr. King's prose does. And it wouldn't be possible with an artist who doesn't have as keen a sense of realism as Alex.

For example, there's a shot in the first issue where we're looking down at the psychiatrist's desk. Alex placed the psychiatrist's glasses over his patient notes and the text of the notes bends when seen through the lens of the glasses. It's little touches like that lend the series with the kind of verisimilitude that Mr. King's story inspires.

Nrama: Is there anything else you want to say about working on this story as a mini-series?

Guggenheim: Just that it was my honor. Stephen King. Alex Maleev. What could be better? And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the stunning work done by the letterer, Chris Eliopolis.  Chris has also been someone I've been dying to work with. Bottom line, there's a lot of wish fulfillment in this series for me and my hope is that that has found itself onto the page.

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