CarolineJane Austen's beloved novel Pride and Prejudice has been adapted into countless movies and plays and spin-off books – and even a recent comic book series from Marvel Comics.
But nothing caught the eye of genre fiction fans quite like having Austen's ladies and gentlemen of Hertfordshire fighting against zombies – slicing through the undead with a combination of zeal and decorum in Regency-era England in the novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Released earlier this year, the novel by author Seth Grahame-Smith – with a co-writing credit for Austen – found such an enthusiastic audience that it was quickly optioned as a film – and has inspired a slew of literary monster mash-ups copying the idea.
At Comic-Con International: San Diego, Del Rey and Random House have announced a graphic novel adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by writer Tony Lee and artist Cliff Richards, due out in January. Newsarama talked to Lee about what's it's like to bring the novel to life in comic book form and what fans of both books – with and without the "zombies" part – will think of what he's writing.
Nrama: Surely you'd heard of Pride & Prejudice before -- what did you think of the idea to add zombies when you first heard about the book?
CatherineTony Lee:: I was skeptical, to be completely honest. I mean, here is a classic of English literature – with zombies. It's like one of those pub games, when you change a word in a film title to something like 'Pants' – so The Empire Strikes Back' becomes The Pants Strike Back' or The Empire Strikes Pants. You know, add the word "Zombies" to classic literature. "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. The Wind In The Zombies. Zombie Expectations." You get the idea. I really felt it was a "cash in" book, just with obviously mismatched, easily sticking-out scenes with zombies purely to fulfill the editorial requirement.
What I didn't expect was this book – because Seth obviously loves the source material. He's managed to keep the entire structure of the tale almost exact to the original, while adding in a subtle underlay that puts the world as they know it against a zombie plague – or rather, the "unmentionables." The Bennet sisters have been trained by their father in the finest dojos of China and wield the finest weapons. Elizabeth loves Darcy, but his aunt disapproves of her because she was trained by the Japanese. It's Buffy The Vampire Slayer in corsets, and it's actually incredibly readable, especially to a Brit who was forced at gunpoint to read the original countless times at school.
Nrama: So did you give the book a chance before you got the project?
CharlesLee: I'd seen it, and I'd considered buying it. My fiancee Tracy is a voracious book reader. She literally inhales books, and I was looking at it as a possible present for her birthday back in June. But a friend of mine named Trish was bought it for her birthday the week before and we were told we could borrow it. And every time I saw her, she was that little bit further down the book, and her eyes were that little bit more manic, her smile a little more deranged. I knew that it was this zombie book that was doing it. And she was happy to talk about it in great lengths, so I was pretty sold on the book even before I was approached.
And when I was, I bought the book and read it the same day. Although, it was watching Trish's enthusiasm for the book that made me agree to come on board.
Nrama: So if you weren't pursuing this, how did you get chosen for the project?
Lee: Luck, mainly. I've been working in comics now for five years and during that time I've carved out a little niche in the "book adaptations" area. I'm adapting all four of Anthony Horowitz's Gatekeeper novels for Walker Books / Candlewick (and when the fifth one comes out, I'll be adapting that). I've also adapted four of his short stories for Hachette Children's Books, I've adapted G.P Taylor's Shadowmancer and also the first two Doppelganger Chronicles books. And a week doesn't go by without another possibility popping up.
CharlotteAnd then when I heard what book it was [this time], I agreed, offered to kill as many of Tricia's enemies as it took to get the gig, and sent in my CV so that the licensor could decide. And a week later, I was given the gig.
Nrama: Why do you think it's so compelling to take these characters and mix them with zombies? Is it the contrast or the comedy of it or what?
Lee: I think it's simply the mash-up of an established character in an unestablished scene. When I wrote Dodge & Twist, I wanted to put Oliver and Dodger in a heist movie. Take them out of the usual scenario. When I wrote From The Pages Of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula': Harker, I did the same by creating a female antagonist in a Victorian society. To add something so alien to the source material can either ruin it or enhance it, depending on the commitment that you put into the new story. And as I said, Seth integrated the two genres perfectly. Is there comedy? I'd say it was a dark, black comedy, if that. It's not "laugh out loud" comedy, but there are moments of concentrated awesome just waiting to be read. And there are moments – Elizabeth Bennet unable to shoot a zombified baby for example – that are just so dark and serious, that you have to sit and re-read.
ElizabethThe contrast is there, yet at the same time you feel that it's always been there. And hopefully you'll see that in my adaptation of, well, Seth's adaptation. [laughs]
Nrama: Do you think this would be something Pride and Prejudice fans should embrace?
Lee: Absolutely. I've met several who look down their noses at it and yet haven't read it. I know several who have, and they love it. This isn't Pride & Prejudice, this is Pride & Prejudice and Zombies. Totally different book. The original is still there on the shelf. It's not like they took a movie adaptation and totally screwed it over. This is a totally different beast from the start.
If you're a fan and you've been avoiding it, don't. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
Nrama: For people who haven't read the book but might be interested in the graphic novel, what is this story and what's the approach to these characters?
Lee: To be honest, it's a very simple boy meets girl, girl fights zombies, girl gets boy kind of tale. We follow the life of young Elizabeth Bennet and her Shaolin monk-trained, zombie-killing sisters as they live with their parents in Longbourn. There's been a zombie, or rather "unmentionables," uprising for several decades now, and old Mister Bennet has ensured that his daughters have been trained in all the deadly arts, while their mother tries to marry them off. So pretty much the same as in the original. [laughs]
FitzwilliamTheir lives are sent into a spin however when young Mister Bingley arrives in town with his sister and the arrogant Mister Darcy, one of the most feared zombie slayers in England and nephew of the most feared zombie slaying woman in England. Elizabeth hates him on sight and wants nothing more than to slit Caroline Bingley's throat, but her sister Jane has fallen for Mister Bingley – however, they are of two separate worlds.
Add to this a cousin who wishes to take the house, while Elizabeth tries to vanquish the zombie menace while overcoming the social prejudices of a class-conscious landed gentry. Does it end the same as the original? You'll just have to read the book to see. But we do have a variety of interesting "zombie" and "ninja: moments.
Nrama: Have you already seen art from Cliff Richards?
Lee: I've been lucky enough to see the concepts and the first nine pages, and they're incredible. I've been fortunate enough to work with many incredibly talented artists in my short time in comics, and Cliff has moved his way to the very top echelon of that list with these incredibly amazing black and white pages. I loved his work when he did Buffy The Vampire Slayer for Dark Horse, and I have his Huntress: Year One on my shelf. The fact that he's drawing this is a dream come true.
JaneNrama: Having recently interviewed the writer of Marvel's adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, I'm wondering if this isn't more conducive to a comic book. One challenge with making the original novel into a comic was the amount of sitting and talking. I take it this will be more action?
Lee: Well, I've only seen the first couple of issues of the Marvel five-parter, and we're definitely a different beast to theirs, even if we have a slightly different subject matter. On a side note, however, one thing I do like about their version is the way they've made the covers look like modern women's magazines, though. And for someone new to comic scripting, Nancy Butler holds her head up well.
Back to the graphic novel, however, we've made a conscious effort to ignore exposition-style caption boxes in our version, to get the information out in dialogue when possible rather than have a box going "Later that day, Mister Bingley did surprise us all by attending dinner with Jane" or suchlike. And even though the pages sometimes have a similar amount of word balloons to the Marvel version – after all, there is a lot of lengthy dialogue that has to be kept – I feel that by losing the captions, we take away the book element, effectively removing a barrier between the reader and the story, allowing them to immerse themselves totally.
GeorgeI was once told that if you had to tell a story, tell it with actions, then words, and then captions. Hopefully it's come across as that here.
But there is still a hell of a lot of sitting and talking in my adaptation, but usually while sharpening a blade or loading a Brown Bess musket. And the scenes where we do go totally balls to the wall, action-wise are still kept in the same style of prose, dialogue wise. It's one of the few times I get to write my own dialogue for the book, keeping it Austen-style!
Nrama: You seem to be quite prolific at the moment, what with this, your regular stint on Doctor Who and your upcoming Dracula sequel. What else are you working on?
Lee: Well, currently, I'm playing catch-up, as I moved house two weeks back and I'm only now living in a room that doesn't involve piles of boxes.
But work wise – again, as I said at the beginning of the interview, I'm adapting a lot at the moment, as I find I enjoy it a lot. As well as Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, I'm currently adapting Anthony Horowitz's fourth book in his "Gatekeepers" series, Necropolis for Walker Books / Candlewick Press. I'm also adapting four short stories of his for Hachette Children's Books, Killer LydiaCamera, The Phone Goes Dead, The Hitchhiker and Scared, with art collaborator Dan Boultwood. And finally (adapting wise), I'm about to start adapting chunks of the third Doppelganger Chronicles book for Tyndale Press.
Outside of that I'm still writing the ongoing Doctor Who series for IDW, currently I'm writing Issue #8, and Issue #2 is about to come out in the shops. I'm working on synopsis / drafts for another licensed ongoing that I can't talk about yet, but as a massive fan I'm having a ball. I'm working out the third book in my "Heroes & Heroines" series for Walker Books / Candlewick Press. The first, Outlaw: The Legend Of Robin Hood finally hits the US next month and has already been nominated for several awards and named a "top book for tweens/teens" at Book Expo America by Diamond. Excalibur: The Legend Of King Arthur is currently being colored and should be out early next year and so the subject of the third one is now being decided upon.
I'm still writing Journal with Bevis Musson for AiT/PlanetLar. And of course I'm finishing final edits on From the Pages Of Bram Stoker's "Dracula": Harker, which comes out in November from AAM/Markosia. So as you can see, I'm filling my days quite nicely. And I haven't even started on the children's novel I'm writing, CrowTown, the 52 Pickup revival or Trinity of Swords.
Mr. CollinsNrama: Anything else you want to tell potential readers about the adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?
Lee: As I mentioned earlier, I know a lot of people out there with a massive amount of love for the original piece, and that many of them feel that this is some kind of bastard clone, an unwanted afterbirth of a book. They won't go near it, or don't want to know about it, which is a shame, really, as the people who have read this that I know, who are also fans of the original, have enjoyed it immensely while taking it in the vein that it's meant. It's not a parody in the strictest sense of the word; it is it's own beast. It's quite loyal to the source material – well, as much as something like this can be.
That said, I also know a lot of people who never read the original, instead choosing to learn about the characters from the movie or television adaptations. To them, I say that this graphic novel is perfect. Easily read and enjoyed. And with a movie adaptation coming out in a year or two, there'll be ample opportunity to discover the zombie-slaying deadly arts of the sisters Bennet.