Enrolling in School: Carey on Ender's Shadow: Battle School

Carey on Ender

Last spring, Marvel Comics announced that they would be adapting Orson Scott Card’s popular sci-fi novel series, the Ender’s Game series, as a series of mini-series starting with Chris Yost and Pasqual Ferry on Ender’s Game: Battle School. Now, this week Marvel releases Ender’s Shadow: Battle School #1—written by Mike Carey with artwork by Sebastian Fiumara. As mentioned previously, it was pointed out that the design work for the comic book versions of Card’s novels will be the look for all intents and purposes, moving forward, with broad hints being made at the costume design made specifically so it can show an actor’s full face.

Newsarama contacted Mike Carey to discuss his contribution to Marvel’s adaptation of the Enderverse.

Newsarama: For folks who aren’t familiar with Orson Scott Card’s work beyond Ender’s Game—what is the premise for Ender’s Shadow?

Mike Carey: As you know, Ender’s Game was the very first in a long sequence of novels—there was initially a tetralogy, focusing on the adventures of the Wiggin family, particularly Ender and Valentine, in the wake of the Formic Wars. After writing those four novels, Orson Scott Card unexpectedly went back to the source—so Ender’s Shadow is not, strictly speaking, a sequel to Ender’s Game; it’s a re-telling of the events of Ender’s Game from the perspective of another character—Bean.

NRAMA: How did you become involved with Ender’s Shadow?

MC: I was approached by Marvel—I knew that they were adapting some more of Orson Scott Card’s stuff and I had a chat with Ralph Macchio and another chat with Nick Lowe, both of whom had parts to play in shepherding this project into existence. I indicated my enthusiasm for the source material and my interest in writing one of the adaptations. They offered me Ender’s Shadow and I was very happy to oblige them.

NRAMA: So you have more than a passing familiarity—

MC: With the Enderverse? Yes.

NRAMA: In your mind, what makes Orson Scott Card’s Enderverse stand out within the Science Fiction genre?

MC: I think there are a lot of possible answers for that. I remember reading Ender’s Game for the first time and actually crying when I got to the end of the book. It’s one of only three or four novels that have got to me on that level. There’s a sequence at the end of Ender’s Game that is almost unbearably painful. So, I think the emotional truth—the emotional power—is certainly something that makes the Ender books special.

The fact that the books deal with preternaturally intelligent and gifted children who are nonetheless emotionally vulnerable and very convincingly drawn is also a part of their appeal. It’s a huge narrative hook that these children are called upon to do things that their elders and their betters can’t do—to fight in a war; it’s a fascinating and gripping central premise.

NRAMA: What are some of the challenges of adapting the work of another living author for a medium like comics?

MC: When going from prose to comic books there is, inevitably, a process of selection and compression. That’s the first challenge. Novels are an expansive medium and comics are a compressed and concentrated medium. In particular, a conversation in a novel can go on for many pages—a protracted scene which is just a conversation. With comics, you can seldom get away with that—there’s a limit to how long a conversation can go on for and how many words you can fit onto a page or into a scene. You have to be selective: you can never just take what’s directly there and put it on the comic page.

The other challenge that hits you straight out of the gate is point-of-view. This is something we discussed when I was on a panel with Orson Scott Card in San Diego a couple of years ago. Either he or Chris Golden made this point: every artistic medium has one thing it does better than any other medium; one unique selling point, if you want to put it crudely. What the novel does, better than any other medium, is give a reader the motivation and internal workings of a character’s mind. With comics, you’ve got the question of point-of-view and how you present point-of-view to the audience. One way, obviously, is through captions. But if you are going to use captions, should they be first person or third person? Should they be from the POV of an omniscient narrator or should they represent one particular character’s mind that we see from the inside?

NRAMA: The establishment of a level of ‘psychic distance’ between the reader and the subject…

MC: Yeah—with Ender’s Shadow, that conundrum presents itself in a particularly urgent form; because, the core events of Ender’s Shadow are the same as those in Ender’s Game: readers who come to the book having read Ender’s Game – and that’s the vast majority of readers – will already know most of what’s going to happen. The key difference is Bean’s perspective on what is happening.

NRAMA: Did you do a lot of consultation with Orson Scott Card during your work on Ender’s Shadow: Battle School?

MC: Not directly, but I’m part of a triangular structure—I work with the editors and the editors work with Orson Scott Card. He gets to see the plans for each issue; he gives me feedback on my comments and questions. He’s actually involved with the process at every stage, but Ralph and Jordan buffer us and keep everything moving.

NRAMA: Are there any particular scenes or moments in your adaptation of Ender’s Shadow that you’re particularly proud of?

MC: In terms of particular scenes, it’s hard to dissect it in that way—I was very happy with how the first issue turned out. Without saying too much about the content, the Rotterdam scenes and the relationship between Bean and Achilles and Bean and Sister Carlotta—I made some decisions, that I think, played out very well. I think the first issue launches us very effectively into Bean’s story. Bean is a great character to write: he’s a lot of fun—really fascinating.

NRAMA: Would you like to see your novels converted into comics or the graphic novel format by other creators?

MC: I can see it being a little bit weird—to stand by and watch that process, even if you are consulted and kept in the loop. I can see it being a very strange position to be in. I remember when Jonathan Vankin used Lucifer in The Witching—I mean, this wasn’t even my character, this was Neil Gaiman’s character that I was writing. Jon had some scenes where his characters interacted with Lucifer, and that felt pretty strange strange. So I can only assume that that sort of strangeness is raised to another power if it’s a character you’ve actually created who then goes into somebody else’s hands.

NRAMA: When does your next novel hit shelves?

MC: March of 2009—I have two Castor novels coming out back-to-back next year, the other one being released in October.

NRAMA: Fantastic! Working in a number of different mediums all at once must be a pretty big challenge—do you have a set pace for yourself in regards to how much work you put into a day’s time? Or in a week?

MC: Hmm. I have routines. To a certain extent, I do have a set pace—my working day takes a fairly consistent shape; I start working around half-past eight when the kids have gone off to school and I work until around 4 o’clock when they come back. If it’s a day when my wife is working, I’ll stop work at that point: I’ll make supper and there will be some family time. After that I’ll go back into my study and do a couple more hours of work in the evening. It’s probably about the same amount of time as any other writer’s working day—but my time is broken up with a big chunk during the day and a smaller chunk later in the night.

What I fill that time with varies a lot. I have days where I get a lot accomplished and then there are days when there is nothing—where it seems like nothing is happening—and at the end of the day, there is not a lot written that I can point to as a justification for my existence. But I’ve learned over the years that the slow days are just as important to the process as the productive days are. Some days I just need to wander around like a fart in a windstorm and look out the window. (laughs)

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