In the race to acquire leading novels for adaptations as graphic novels, DC landed quite a conquest last year with the internationally beloved crime book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and its best-selling "Millennium series" by Stieg Larsson.
In November, DC's Vertigo imprint will finally release the highly anticipated The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Book 1, the first in the series, which are being coordinated closely with Larsson's estate and Hedlund Literary Agency.The adaptations are being crafted by Scottish crime novelist Denise Mina, known in the comics world for her work on Hellblazer and the Vertigo graphic novel A Sickness in the Family. Mina is working with artists Leonardo Manco and Andrea Mutti on the interiors, and Lee Bermejo is doing covers.
The "Millennium series" has sold more than 60 million books worldwide and has been adapted into more than one movie, winning loyal fans of its stories about mysterious and menacing computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist.After the success of the Twilight graphic novel adaptations and the American Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movie, DC is surely hoping for a hit graphic novel with their adaptation.
But how much of the novel can Mina include in a graphic novel? And how does she make it different from the film? Newsarama talked to the writer to find out.
Newsarama: Denise, you've dealt with well-known characters before, but this property is so beloved and has such a loyal following. Was it a little intimidating when you first started on the project?
Denise Mina: You know, I'm not really that tuned in socially, you know? I just saw it as an academic exercise and tried to enjoy it.
Nrama: What most attracted you most to the project?
Mina: What appealed to me, as a writer, was putting it in a comic book form, because you had to strip the narrative down. I really loved these characters, but the story is a bit confused. But once it's in comic book form, it's very clean, actually. He does an amazing job on the narrative art. So that was what really interested me about it was putting it into comic book form, because if I'd been adapting it for anything else, I don't think I would have done it.
Nrama: You mentioned that the artist does an amazing job. What do you think it is that the graphic novel does that's unique, compared not only to the novel, but also to the two movies that have already been made?
Mina: Well, in a novel, you can have a lot of internal monologue, so you find out a lot about the characters' motives and how they arrive at conclusions and that sort of thing. You can't have that in a comic.In a movie, you can use visuals to kind of suggest changes in their moods, but you can't do that in a comic book. I think in movies, the visuals can set the tone and the emotional tone in a way that you can't do in a comic book. And the dialogue that's there is not really that important, actually, in a movie.
So a comic book is, technically, a very different narrative form. In a comic book, it's a balance between the visuals and the text. Only what's important is in the text, and the rest of it really is the visuals.They're the same characters and the same basic narrative arc, but because it's a different form and it's a different focus, it actually read very differently to me.
Nrama: As you tweaked and adapted the novel for comics, what parts of Lisbeth did you focus upon and hone into in order to portray her in this medium?
Mina: Well, I think her appearance is so startling that, you know, immediately, you think this is someone who's alienating and very aggressive, that sort of thing. So that was the starting point.From a writer's point of view, what's interesting then is to find out, why is she like that? And that's actually in the book, and it doesn't come out in the movie. And that's that her mom is in the hospital, and she's brain damaged from being beaten up. And I think it's fundamental, but they didn't put that in the movie, you know? She just appears like this sexy superhero. And her mom wasn't even in the American movie, which I understand, because you have to conflate, but I thought that was a real shame.
I think when you know that, the fact that she goes back and attacks her attacker makes sense, because in her mind, to allow that to happen to you is to consent to that happening a lot, you know?So just trying to soften her and make her comprehensible to an audience, I think, is really what I focused on.
Nrama: Did you work together with the artist on the design for the characters, or did that mostly rely on the artist?
Mina: You know, it mostly relied on the artist. He did a lot of character sketches before, and I think he really wrestled with which one to go with. I told him to do the ones he felt were best. But I really love the ones he chose.
Nrama: Did you get any feedback from the estate of the original author?
Mina: Yes! They were very Swedish responses. They said it was "good." And then they got the next bit, and they said, "also this was good, but you spelled these things wrong." And then the third part, they said, "And also this was good." [Laughs.] You know? I think that means "ecstatic" in Sweden.
Nrama: As a crime writer yourself, why do you think this story really caught on with readers so well?
Mina: I think it really caught people's imagination because it was about corporate fraud. I think people are suddenly aware that there's this whole area of criminology that we've been a bit blind to. I think that was quite captivating.And the fact that Blomkvist is a middle-aged guy going through a massive crisis, and it's work-related, is something that a lot of people can relate to.
And she's fabulous. That's a huge part of the attraction.
But also just Sweden. I mean, I think the people are so particularly Swedish. It's a very, very Swedish book.
Nrama: Does that come across in the graphic novel?
Mina: Very much so. Yeah. And they're all eating very specific Swedish food, and they're all visiting places in Stockholm. There are lots of details. I lived in Norway. (Don't tell anyone in Sweden, because they hate the Norwegians.) And there are things that ice does that are particular to that area. There's a scene where, if you have icicles hanging from your roof, and the snow backs up behind them, they curl down toward the windows like big hands coming toward the windows. And things like that.
But even just the characters come across as very Swedish.
Nrama: What has it been like working with Leonardo, the artist, on this series?
Mina: We worked together on Hellblazer and I really love his work. He's done amazing work on this. There are scenes in this that just make you cry, really. He's doing these really powerful, beautiful panels and sequences that really move, because quite a lot of the pages don't even have any dialogue on them. And he's done them beautifully.There's a whole sequence where it's Blomkvist's Christmas, and Salander's Christmas, and you know, just before everything kicks off. And there's no dialogue in it at all. You know, Blomkvist is excited. And everything's changing for her. And [the artist] just gets that across. He's incredible. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!