Before there was ANT-MAN, There was THE SHRINKING MAN

"The Shrinking Man #1" preview
Credit: IDW Publishing
Credit: IDW Publishing

Stories of shrinking heroes may be the big thing these days with Ant-Man, but long before Scott Lang, Hank Pym or any version of Ant-Man, there was horror author Richard Matheson's The Shrinking Man -- and how it's coming to comic books.

What would it be like to be only a few inches high? And not in a cool way, with super-strength and ants at your control – more like a being helpless within your own home, with simple household pests now ravenous giants out to kill you. In the 1950s, Matheson – author of I Am Legend, numerous Twilight Zone episodes including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and such TV-movies as Steven Spielberg’s first feature Duel and the original The Night Stalker – told the scientifically-spurious but chilling adventure of Scott Carey, a man exposed to radioactive mist that caused him to lose 1/7 of an inch per day, in his novel The Shrinking Man.

 If you’ve never read the book, you might know the film version, adapted by Matheson himself for director Jack Arnold (Tarantula, Creature From the Black Lagoon) The Incredible Shrinking Man. The film won the first Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation – and whose effects, though dated, are still fun.

Hey, here’s the original trailer, narrated by Orson Welles!

Almost six decades and countless parodies later (including The Incredible Shrinking Woman with Lily Tomlin), Matheson’s original tale still packs a punch not just for its “giant” monsters and high adventure, but its tale of a man losing power over his own life – with plenty of unsettling metaphors for loss of potency and effectively being turned into a child with an adult mind.

IDW’s CEO and Publisher is a huge Matheson fan who’s published and worked on several adaptations of Matheson’s work through his company – and is now tackling one of the master’s biggest works himself in a new adaptation of the original novel The Shrinking Man with artist Mark Torres (Judge Dredd, Zombies vs. Robots, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), the first issue of which hits shelves this Wednesday.

We called up Adams to talk the adaptation, to geek out about Richard Matheson, and even clue him into a sequel he didn’t know existed. And we’ve got some exclusive art from the first issue to share as well.

Newsarama: So, Ted, why did you want to adapt the original novel of The Shrinking Man into comic books?

Ted Adams: Well, IDW had a pretty long relationship with Richard Matheson while he was alive – we were fortunate to get to work with him for quite some time, and since his passing, we’ve worked with his estate.

I think the first thing we did with Richard was we republished the adaptation of the novel I Am Legend Steve Niles scripted back in the 1980s – that was one of the first things IDW published, I believe.

And from there we did an original adaptation of Hell House, and adapted some of his stories in the short-lived magazine Doomed, and more recently, we did an adaptation of Duel we called Road Rage, which combined the story with a new story by Stephen King and Joe Hill.

So we have that history with Richard and his family, and The Shrinking Man seemed like the next step, and thankfully his family wanted to do it.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Nrama: What does The Shrinking Man and Richard’s work mean to you personally?

Adams: It all means a lot to me personally – I grew up reading Richard’s work, and have a tremendous respect for not only his writing but his place on genre fiction. He was influential to everybody, really – if you look at who’s writing horror now, they all grew up reading Richard’s work.

People throw out the word “legend” a lot, but he truly was a legend, not just in a genre space, but just a great writer.

Nrama: So many “I Am Legend” jokes that could be made – but they’re true, he’s like the Rosetta Stone for a lot of genre fiction.

Adams: Yeah. My son is 12, and I’ve read to him ever since he was born before he goes to sleep every night – thankfully, he still lets me do that! – and about a year and a half ago we read The Shrinking Man together, and that reminded me how much I loved that book, and led to my reaching out to get the rights.

Credit: IDW Publishing

I’ve done writing before, but for a while I’ve just been busy running IDW. But for The Shrinking Man, I decided to adapt it myself. And my son helped me – we actually broke down some of the pages together, and do the layouts.

Nrama: That can be the biggest challenge in turning prose into comic books.

Adams: Well, with some books – with The Shrinking Man, so much of the book takes place in the lead character’s head, that’s a pretty big challenge. The great thing about The Shrinking Man is that there’s these amazing action sequences when he’s less than an inch tall and fighting off spiders and cats that are trying to kill him.

But the great thing about The Shrinking Man is that it’s much more a story about a man and his place in the world, and what does it mean for his manhood when he’s shrinking, and eventually reaches the point where he shrinks to where he’s smaller than his wife, and then where he’s smaller than his five-year-old daughter, and that inner dialogue that happens with the character is just fascinating.

So what we do with the comic is juxtapose the action sequences with that inner dialogue – “what does it mean to be a man?”

Nrama: It’s interesting, there’s plenty of authors in that period of the 1950s and 1960s who really made their bones by talking about suburbia and the role of the American male – Mad Men ended recently, and you can see the fingerprints of John Cheever and Richard Yatesall over it – but none of those other books really had giant spiders.

Credit: IDW Publishing

It’s interesting that Matheson, with that book – the most terrifying thing isn’t giant cats or spiders, or even the possibility of not existing, but the emasculation aspect of it.

Adams: You’re right, that’s what the book is about – what does it mean to be a man, and when you’re shrinking, your manhood is literally shrinking. And it deals with the character’s relationship with his wife, his sexuality – I don’t want to give away too much of the book,  but that manifests itself in some interesting ways.

This is a very contemporary novel – there’s some aspects that don’t ring completely true in today’s world, but the core of it is as relevant today as it was in the 1950s.

Nrama: Well, even at the time, the science was not there. I remember first reading about the book in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre and him pointing out the line “incredible catabolism.”

Adams: Yeah, I think this is where you have to have your suspension of disbelief. In any genre fiction, you have to ask the audience to suspend one thing – in this case, suspend your disbelief that one thing happens that makes him shrink about an inch a week. Just accept that that happens! [laughs] Something that isn’t real is real.

Nrama: The line I quote over and over is from Mystery Science Theater 3000: “Just repeat to yourself it’s just a show, I should really just relax.”

Adams: Exactly.

Nrama: That line’s gotten me through some hard times.

How old were you when you encountered The Shrinking Man, and how did it affect you?

Adams: Well, I was young – about the age my son was when I read it to him – and the parts that dealt with his sexual life, what it means to be a man, it didn’t resonate that much with me when I was that age. It was the exciting action sequences! That’s what I was reading it for. It’s a thrilling adventure story, but it’s also a look into a man’s mind.

And to be honest, when I read the book aloud to my son, there were a few sequences [laughs] that I abbreviated. For anyone reading this, I didn’t read my son the darker sexual moments in The Shrinking Man! I skipped over those.

Nrama: …I was actually a little concerned about that, but I didn’t want to be jumping on you early in the interview.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Adams: I’m terrible about that sort of thing! And the part of the book he helped me with, it was the spider fight and things like that.

Nrama: Well, kids you keep away from this stuff are the ones who tend to go off the reservation. You expose them to horrific, violent horror at an early age, they’ll be so desensitized that by the time they hit college they’ll practically be Leave It to Beaver…uh, readers, do not take this theory as fact.

Adams: Yeah, my son has seen a lot due to the nature of my job, so he has a real creative life, and a work life, but I try to make sure what’s wildly inappropriate – he’s not exposed to those.

Nrama: Let’s talk about your artist, Mark Torres, and working with him.

Adams: This artist is terrific – the action sequences, Mark’s storytelling is great. My plan was to cut between the survival story, fighting the spider in the basement, and not have the character talking out loud to himself, so we really relied on art for those sequences. So I did some layouts, and he just nailed it.

There’s a bit in the first issue where Scott Carey’s running from the black widow, and it’s just thrilling, the way Mark rendered it. And there’s flashbacks to when he’s shrinking, and those are much more character-driven, and Mark is really able to capture what the character’s are thinking and represent that visually.

I think this book is really going to put Mark on the map. He’s done some great covers, these graphic design covers, and I think people are really going to sit up and notice his work.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Nrama: I want to talk about the movie version –

Adams: It really holds up!

Nrama: It does!

Adams: I rewatched it before

I did this to see how it holds up. And it’s more of an action story, there were things they couldn’t do, but it’s a great story about a shrinking man, even without much of the metaphysical side.

Nrama: The effects are still a lot of fun. There’s a surprising amount of the subtext of the original novel that they were able to get away with circa 1957.

Adams: They did. You know, I think this could work really well today as like a 10-episode TV series, a long piece of filmed entertainment. I watched the film with my kid and he loved it – he’s used to the slower pace of older films and really appreciated what they did.

Nrama: Doing my due diligence for this, I found out Richard Matheson actually did a treatment for a sequel that never got made, The Fantastic Shrinking Girl. If this does well, would you like to adapt that?

Adams: Wow, you stumped me there! I thought I knew everything about Matheson’s work! I had no idea this existed!

Well, maybe! I knew the Lily Tomlin film existed – but Matheson had nothing to with that. I watched the trailer, but frankly it was pretty dreadful.

Nrama: It really is.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Adams: What is this sequel, is it to the book or the film --?

Nrama: Well, just doing basic Wikipedia research – oh, and you want some horror, they had an idea for another comedy remake with Eddie Murphy –

Adams: Oh.

Nrama: -- but, this is an article retrieved February 2013, there was a story Matheson would have scripted with his son, he wrote a story that would have involved going into a microscopic universe. It was published in 2006 by Gauntlet Press in a collection called Unrealized Dreams.

Adams: Wow. I will have to check that out. I have a bunch of the Gauntlet Press Matheson books – they just all these beautiful versions of his books, most of them signed, and some collections of his screenplays. But somehow I missed that one! I have a pretty deep Matheson collection, many of his paperback editions, but I’m going to need to get that one. Those are the definitive Matheson collections, in my opinion.

I’ve been so lucky to publish works by people like Matheson, and Clive Barker, and Harlan Ellison and Robert Bloch and so many others – many of them people I grew up reading and just admiring their work – getting to work with them has been just an honor.

Nrama: Any other works by Richard Matheson you’d like to see adapted into miniseries or graphic novel form?

Adams: Oh, there’s plenty – Somewhere in Time is a classic, What Dreams May Come – and there’s hundreds of short stories. The things he’s best-known for, that might have the most immediate audience, but whatever his estate would want to do, we’re up for it.

Nrama: He had quite a range. Who are some other classic authors you’d love to adapt through IDW?

Adams: Chris Ryall, our chief creative officer and editor-in-chief, we talk about this a lot. One we’re both on the same page with – Stephen King. There’s tons of Stephen King we’d love to adapt. He’s always at the top of our list.

Another one is Isaac Asimov – he was hugely prolific, and many of his works would make amazing graphic novels. We’re always interested in Ray Bradbury. Jim Thompson, I’d love to do adaptations of his classic thrillers.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Nrama: Byron Priess did a lot of Ray Bradbury in the 1980s and 1990s –

Adams: Those were great. Byron was a great publisher, he did a lot of terrific SF adaptations by a number of authors I’d love to see come back.

Nrama: Anything you’d like to say about the book to give us the hard sell?

Adams: I’m not a hard-sell guy! [laughs] But I hope people who enjoy Matheson pick up the book, and those who haven’t check out the book and feel inspired to try out the original novel. This is my version of it, and it’s fun, and Mark’s doing a terrific job.

 But I hope it inspires people to check out the original novel. It’s an extraordinary piece of work.

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