Boom!'s Ross Richie on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Preview: Do Androids Dream... #1

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? #1 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? #1

Boom! Studios burst onto the comic book publishing scene in 2005 with the first issue of Zombie Tales, featuring a cover from Eisner Award-winning 100 Bullets cover artist Dave Johnson and short stories from Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, and Eureka TV show creator Andrew Cosby. Arriving in the middle of all the hoopla surrounding fellow start-ups Virgin Comics, Speakeasy Comics, and Alias Comics, Boom! focused on a few individual creator-driven projects -- Giffen and DeMatteis' Hero Squared and Steve Niles' Giant Monster - and four years later is the only one left standing.

Heading into 2009, Boom!'s had a big year, emerging as a stable top 10 publisher right behind Dark Horse, IDW, Image, and Dynamite. Farscape has broken out as a hit for the publisher, with the first issue in its third printing. The Boom! Kids imprint saw all three initial launch titles – The Muppet Show, The Incredibles, and Cars - sell-out and go into second printings and Mark Waid's new superhero deconstruction book, Irredeemable, emerged as this spring's must-read book.

This June, the upstart publisher will broaden its approach with the announcement that is has licensed Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the book that Blade Runner is based on.

We caught up with Boom! head honcho and C.E.O. Ross Richie to talk to him about the landmark project. (preview of #1 here)

Newsarama: Ross, moving into adapting literary works is something new for Boom! Where did the initiative come from, and what got you to set your sights on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Ross Richie: We're big believers here at Boom! that comics can do any kind of narrative. We've long been interested in adapting literary works or doing new works based on pre-existing books and honestly this is just the first of many of these deals that got finalized and finished.

We are all huge fans of Philip K. Dick in the office and loved Blade Runner as well. I'll never forget the night that I first saw the film. Finding out later that it was based on a book was just mesmerizing -- you mean there's more to that world? There's untold scenes and stories and how different are the two projects? I was obsessed. Finding out afterwards that there was a whole PKD library meant I was lost in Dick's fractured universe for a long time...

Let's be realistic. If you're a publisher and you're interested in books, and you publish comics, there are three genres you will set your sights on first: sci-fi, fantasy, and crime. And if you're doing sci-fi, PKD is the top of that list.

Sci-fi is also a staple of Boom!'s publishing line-up. We don't bang a drum about it, but between Warhammer 40,000 and the Eureka comic book, we're one of the biggest sci-fi publishers in comics. It's a natural for what we do.

a page from issue #1

NRAMA: The solicitation says that you're going to be "mixing all new panel-to-panel continuity with the actual text from the novel in an innovative, ground-breaking 24-issue maxi-series experiment" - what does that mean, exactly? The way it reads – and looks in the preview, it sounds as if there's no one "adapting" the novel for the comic in terms of the writer...

RR: You're exactly right. This isn't an adaptation.

I am not a big fan of adaptations. It's difficult to transport something you love from one medium to another. It's easier to take a character, like Superman, and draw from all the mythology and create the epic Superman story in another medium like Richard Donner did for the Superman movie. It's harder to take a novel and make it a TV show or a movie or a comic book, retaining all that you loved. I loved the Watchmen movie, but there are many fans complaining about the lack of a squiddy ending. I adored Lord of the Rings, but many fans chafe at the notion that the original story was changed.

So we're literally taking every single word in the original novel and putting it into the comic book. Every word! It's the full novel, fully illustrated.

NRAMA: Why this book? You mentioned that you’re fans, but talk about its importance, in the broader sense...

RR: Well, lemme put it this way. I'm just some chucklehead publisher, I'll let the heavy hitters do the talking for me:

Warren Ellis said, "Philip K. Dick, to my mind, was the great visionary writer of the 20th Century."

Dick's writing pre-sages things like virtual reality, birthed the cyberpunk movement with an obvious influence on William Gibson's Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash as well as Bruce Sterling's Islands in the Net.

Where would the Wachowskis on The Matrix without Dick? The whole conceit -- that reality isn't reality -- is a total tip of the hat to the master.

Do Androids Dream...#1, cover C

The world was enthralled with Westerns in the mid-1900s -- the John Wayne era -- because the Old West really didn't completely die until just before 1910 and World War I. The Wild West was this recent time in American history that was really tumultuous, and we were still digesting it. The great cities of the west -- San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas, Phoenix, etc. -- were brand new and just starting to exert their influences. So we were playing out that mythology onscreen. What's it mean to be American? What's it mean to be a cowboy? What's this whole crazy, violent, individualized aspect of the American character that's completely different than Philly, Jersey, NYC, and Boston? How does it fit in and how are we changed as a nation?

That's what Philip K. Dick pre-sages for us -- the future. The present. The net. A dystopic world. Do Androids… has a world ravaged by nuclear radiation, years before the Cold War hit its showdown apex during the Reagan Era. Urban loneliness, bombed-out alienation. Paranoia in the city. Technology. Modern pharmaceuticals. It's all there, fresh as it ever has been, 41 years later, because Dick was a prophet channeling where we were all going.

Moving past that, Dick is a great human writer, asking at the core of all of his work, "What does it mean to be human?" He has fascinating strains of identity and individuality in his material. Pretty modern stuff that we deal with even now.

NRAMA: But by this point, there are people saying, "Big deal, I've seen Blade Runner - even the version that came in the suitcase." As has been argued many times before, Do Androids Dream... is not quite Blade Runner and vice versa, right?

RR: Not at all.

Do Androids Dream... #1, cover D

Philip K. Dick died shortly after he saw the first cut of Blade Runner - passing away before the film opened -- but he characterized the movie as what he had seen in his head as he was writing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, so that's big.

That being said, the book is very, very different from Blade Runner. As Star Wars has The Force in it, Do Androids… has this fascinating religion in it called Mercerism, where people use machines to achieve a fugue state with Mercer, a transcendent religious ecstasy.

There's a lot of things in the book that aren't in the movie. Like Deckard's wife.

But fans of Blade Runner won't be lost -- there's Nexus 6 androids, the Tyrell Corporation, Priss, I could go on and on...

Philip K. Dick said, "After I finished reading the screenplay for Blade Runner, I got the novel out and looked through it. The two reinforce each other, so that someone who started with the novel would enjoy the movie and someone who started with the movie would enjoy the novel."

NRAMA: Getting into the production side of things, how long have you been working on this deal?

RR: More than a year. I can't recall exactly, but I remember re-reading the book on the plane to Emerald City Comicon in 2008, and we had solicited the book by the time BOOM! appeared at Emerald City this year.

NRAMA: Warren Ellis and others will be providing "backmatter" for the series, but with Ellis in the first issue - what will he be contributing?

RR: Whatever Warren wants! I have known Warren for 15 years, dating back to when I worked at Malibu Comics in the early 1990s and he was a dangerous young punk writing for Marvel. I remember when Carl Potts said to me, "You should check out this new guy we've got on Hellstorm, he's really something" and I had bought the book and been following it and Warren's work and Driud and even his early Atomeka stuff in A1 and after I left Malibu and started to do some early feature film producing I reached out to Warren and said hello and we've kept in touch sporadically through the years.

Do Androids Dream... #1, cover B

Warren loves Philip K. Dick's work, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what he writes and how he observes one of his favorite creators.

By the way, Matt Fraction will be contributing backmatter for the second issue. Ed Brubaker will be on the third issue. And we have Farscape creator Rockne S. O'Bannon on the fourth issue.

NRAMA: Will this be a one-off adaptation, or rather, "experiment" for Boom, or are you planning on other novel adaptations? If so, in what vein are you looking? More PKD?

RR: We have a very interesting follow-up planned, and it's not anything of what you can possibly think it would be like. It will surprise everyone, and be a bit controversial. Let me just keep it at that.

Boom!’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep #1 (of 24) is due in stores in June.

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